After sending four men to prison for possession of unlicensed handguns on Friday, Justice Michael Wood asked the public for help in wiping out what he called a firearm “scourge.” Specifically, he addressed the problem of guns entering the island.
“Somehow these firearms are getting onto the island and I would urge anyone who does know how they are getting onto the island to inform the police, if necessary, anonymously. Unless the trade in firearms is stopped, not just innocent members of the public may suffer but also the tourism industry could be dealt a potentially devastating blow, particularly when firearms are discharged in public places such as bars,” he said.
Justice Wood said the number of cases in Cayman involving firearms was “quite simply staggering.”
In each of the four sentences he passed, he noted that unlicensed firearms can only be used to kill, maim, cause serious injury or terrorize people in the course of committing an offense.
“Those who look after firearms for others are just as guilty as those who carry them,” he pointed out.
Justice Wood said he understood there is to be an emergency meeting chaired by the governor within the next month or so.
“The courts and police can only do what they can, but it’s for the public who can really help and I repeat – I urge anyone who has information to come forward and assist the police even, as I said, anonymously. It’s a scourge which has got to be wiped out.”
Before Justice Wood began his series of sentences, he dealt with the matter of Marvin Xavier Conolly Almandarez, who was incorrectly included in a published list of “mentions for sentence.” In fact, this defendant has not yet entered a plea. His matter was put over to July 14, when it was expected that a trial date will be set.
Andy Errol Barnes, 13 years
Barnes, 37, was found guilty by a jury earlier this month of possessing an unlicensed .38 revolver and six rounds of ammunition. After hearing from Crown counsel Scott Wainwright and defense attorney Crister Brady, Justice Wood summed up the matter.
On March 18, 2016, police attended a George Town premises where Barnes was staying and they found the gun in a microwave oven. Barnes’ fingerprints were inside the microwave. His DNA was on the trigger of the gun, the grip and the hammer. “The evidence was overwhelming,” the judge commented.
Barnes sought to blame codefendant Yannick McLaughlin, whom the jury found not guilty. With a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for conviction after trial, there were no factors to reduce that term. But, the judge said, Barnes had an appalling record. He had received a lengthy sentence in 1998 for attempted robbery and possession of an imitation firearm; in 2011, he was jailed for possession of ammunition. The sentences did not deter him.
A significant factor in Barnes’ present case was that before the gun was hidden in the microwave, it was being driven around town at night while loaded. “Why were you doing that? I mustn’t speculate,” the judge commented, adding that people who carry guns in a public place must expect condign punishment.
Jordan Bryson Powell, nine years
Senior Crown counsel Nicole Petit told the court that Powell, 24, pleaded guilty to possession of a .45 handgun and 10 rounds of .45 ammunition in February, following an incident the previous month. The gun was not loaded; the magazine and bullets were found separately.
She summarized the circumstances that led to his arrest. Powell was in a vehicle driven by his father, who was speeding, and police attempted to stop him. The truck crashed into a utility pole and Powell got out, dropping the gun. He complied with directions from police, who found the ammunition in the bed of the truck. He said he did not have any intention of going out and committing an offense.
Defense attorney Alice Carver accepted that Powell had previous convictions for attempted robbery and possession of an imitation firearm with intent to commit an offense. The shotgun involved was inoperable and therefore was charged as imitation. She said he had completed his sentence, obtained a job and was caring for his young family.
Justice Wood agreed that Powell had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. He said he was bound by the Firearms Law to pass a minimum of seven years after a guilty plea, but there was the aggravating feature of Powell’s previous convictions and his profound failure to respond to his previous sentence.
Torry Javier Powery-Monterroso, eight years
Powery was 18 when he was arrested on March 25, 2016.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran set out the details of the offense. He explained that two Uniform Support Group officers were dispatched to the Rock Hole area of George Town after police received a report around 2:15 a.m. of two males with a firearm driving around central George Town in a white van.
The officers drove to the area and spotted the van. They attempted to stop it by means of blue lights and siren, but the vehicle continued. As police drove alongside, the van door opened and one of the males jumped out while the vehicle was still moving.
The male hit his hand on the ground, scrambled up and fled. One of the officers recognized him as Powery and noticed a shiny object in his hand. He shouted at the fleeing man to stop. Instead, Powery ran behind a property, which caused the officer to lose sight of him briefly; when the officer caught up with him, his hand was bleeding and he did not have a gun.
A search team was called in but nothing was found. However, the two officers who had first responded continued the search and around 6:24 a.m., they found a shiny silver pistol in dense undergrowth behind the property where Powery had run. It was a semi-automatic double-action loaded with six 9mm bullets.
Powery was interviewed in the presence of an attorney and did not answer questions. Although presented with DNA evidence, he did not plead guilty until July. Powery then said that the gun had been given to him by the driver of the van and the Crown did not contest that.
Mr. Moran listed the aggravating features, including the reckless way in which Powery has disposed of the gun. There could have been serious consequences if it had been found by a criminal or a small child, he indicated.
Attorney Prathna Bodden, who spoke as a friend of the court, said the legal definition of possession was a concept difficult to understand for someone Powery’s age. That seemed to have been the reason for his delay in pleading. Powery had Cayman connections and had hoped to obtain status, but his chances now were non-existent, she said. Now he will spend his youth in prison and then be sent back to a country he does not know.
Powery told the court he was truly sorry for what had happened. He said he had been very intoxicated that night. He explained that at one point he had decided to come to court and explain everything, but then he decided he could not because he did not know what would happen as a result.
Justice Wood commended the officers for carrying on their search for the gun and getting it out of circulation. He said carrying the loaded gun in a public place was an aggravating factor and imposed eight years, with credit for time in custody and a recommendation for deportation afterward.
John Brandon Smith, seven years
Smith, 25, pleaded guilty on June 16 to possession of a loaded .25 semi-automatic pistol and a magazine containing another six rounds. The firearms were found by police after Smith was stopped for traffic violations on May 2. A police dog indicated the possible presence of a gun in the vehicle, but none was found. However, officers then went to the residence where Smith had been given permission to stay and it was there that the dog indicated a knapsack. The gun and magazine were inside.
Ms. Bodden said Smith was remorseful and did not know how he got himself into this situation – the company he was keeping plus a little bit of curiosity, and then he did not know what to do with the firearm, she said.
Justice Wood said there were no aggravating or mitigating features to the case, so he imposed the mandatory seven years.