The fact that an illegal immigrant was deported from Cayman before police received DNA results in a firearm case was an “extraordinary error,” Justice Charles Quin said Friday morning when he summed up the law and evidence in the trial of Jay Calvert Ebanks for possession of an unlicensed firearm.
The jury of five women and two men returned verdicts of not guilty that afternoon. Ebanks, now 23, had been charged with possession of a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver and two rounds of ammunition in the gun on Aug. 25, 2016, at his Savannah residence.
The firearms were found inside the toilet tank in the en suite bathroom of the bedroom occupied by Ebanks’s mother, senior immigration officer Jeannie Lewis. Police had gone to the residence with a search warrant. During the search, Ms. Lewis told an officer she heard water running. That led the officer to check the toilet and find the gun. Photos seen by the jury showed the gun partially submerged in water and partially enmeshed in the toilet flushing mechanism.
Five people were in the residence at the time of the search: Ms. Lewis, the defendant, the defendant’s girlfriend, his younger brother, and the illegal immigrant – Antonio Bullard. All five were arrested on suspicion of possessing the unlicensed firearms.
DNA samples of all five were sent for analysis along with swabs from the weapon.
Ebanks was brought to court for the firearm charges on Aug. 29, apparently on the basis of his interview with police the day of the arrests.
The DNA report was received on Nov. 23: It showed profiles consistent with Bullard’s DNA being on a top section of the gun and on the two rounds of ammunition inside. Ebanks, his girlfriend, mother and brother were excluded as possible contributors to DNA profiles found on the exterior of the gun as well as the bullets inside.
By that time, Bullard had appeared in Summary Court, where he pleaded guilty to illegal landing and was sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment, with credit for time in custody. A police officer who gave evidence in Ebanks’s trial confirmed that Bullard had been deported by immigration officials on Oct. 9.
Justice Quin told the jury, “I think everybody would have to agree that this was an extraordinary error. And it’s a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.”
Ebanks, who gave evidence, admitted to the court that he had lied in his interview with police. When the interviewing officers had advised him of his right to an attorney, he had told them that if he could just speak to his mother first, he would know if he needed an attorney. Officers had replied that he could not speak to her because she had also been arrested.
Ebanks said he then decided to protect his mother, girlfriend and younger brother. He told officers he and Bullard would “take the whole rap” by accepting responsibility for the firearms, ganja and 10 rounds of .40 ammunition found in his bedroom.
In court, Ebanks said he never knew about the loaded gun when Bullard came to his home the night before the police search. He said Bullard gave him details after they had been arrested, when they were allowed outside the detention center to smoke. That was why he could describe the gun in his interview, he said.
Crown counsel Scott Wainwright based the case for the prosecution on the definition of possession as being knowledge of an item and control over it. Jurors had asked twice about the meaning of possession and control, once when Mr. Wainwright opened the case, and again after Justice Quin instructed them.
The judge asked Mr. Wainwright and defense counsel Laurence Aiolfi to write out a definition they agreed on for the jury. Their agreed explanation was that control is the right to say what should be done with an item; the ability to demand that the item be removed (or the ability to remove it) is no more than evidence of knowledge and acquiescence and is not to be equated with control.
After the jury verdicts, Ebanks was remanded in custody because he had pleaded guilty to possession of the rounds of ammunition found in his room, telling the court he had found them while walking his dog. The judge said he would ask probation officers to accelerate the preparation of a social inquiry report so that sentencing could take place on Sept. 14.
Ebanks’s mother first appeared in court on Nov. 29, charged with permitting a premises to be used for consumption of a controlled drug and knowingly assisting a person (Bullard) to land in the Cayman Islands. She has pleaded not guilty and her trial has been set for Nov. 22.