Three men seen offloading ganja in South Sound last September were sentenced on Monday to terms ranging from two and a half to three years.
Linton Nightpole Pillarchie, Eyon Joshua Johnson and Cephas Solomon Reynolds previously pleaded guilty to importing 438 pounds of ganja into the Cayman Islands on the night of Sept. 28, 2017.
Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson said two officers on patrol around 11:30 p.m. along South Sound were in the vicinity of San Sebastian when they saw three men offloading packages from a Jamaican canoe onto the shore.
The officers called for assistance. The three men on the beach ran off in different directions. The police helicopter did surveillance in the area and other officers secured the packages.
The boat contained food, men’s clothing, a handheld GPS and six 55-gallon drums of fuel, Mr. Ferguson told the court.
Around 3 a.m., all three defendants were seen walking along South Sound Road. They were dressed in shorts and shirts and appeared wet. They had no footwear. The three were arrested near Walkers Road.
When interviewed, Mr. Reynolds gave no comment. Mr. Pillarchie said he had stowed away on the boat because he was coming to Cayman to seek a better life. Mr. Johnson admitted the boat was his, but said they had been threatened. He told police all three had taken turns steering the boat.
Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Johnson soon pleaded guilty, but Mr. Pillarchie maintained his not guilty stance and his trial was set for Jan. 10. After attorney John Meghoo spoke with him, however, he “decided to do the right thing” and changed his plea the day before the trial.
Magistrate Valdis Foldats explained why the men were getting different sentences. With a starting point of four years, he gave Mr. Johnson three months credit for his personal mitigation, as set out by attorney Jonathon Hughes, and then one-third discount for his guilty plea. The result was a prison term of 30 months.
For Mr. Pillarchie, the discount was less because of the late plea, which meant that a trial date had been set and a case management hearing had been held. For this defendant, the sentence was 33 months.
For Mr. Reynolds, the situation was different, the magistrate said. His social inquiry report revealed that he had been in prison in the U.S. on an 18-month sentence for wounding. Then he had been deported back to Jamaica.
The magistrate said that after such significant imprisonment, there should have been no further criminal activity. Mr. Hughes suggested that this defendant should not be penalized for his candor in admitting the U.S. offense.
The magistrate disagreed and found this an aggravating factor, raising the four years to 54 months. Applying the one-third discount, he imposed a term of 36 months.
He said these were stern punishments, but the three men had made the decision to commit a crime to the detriment of Cayman society.
“The cost of being involved in this business is a lengthy prison sentence,” he said.
The magistrate noted that in this day of social media and telecommunications, even the poorest people seemed to have access to iPhones or the internet.
“One hopes the word will get back to Jamaica: If you bring illegal drugs you will get caught and you will go to jail. That has to be the message,” he said.
He hoped the defendants would spread the word to people back in their country because, if ganja importation continued, the sentences would go higher.
He accepted that the men had offended because of financial hardships. But most people in financial difficulty do not commit crime, he said.
Those who bring drugs here are part of an unlawful, for-profit and usually gang-related industry, he said. The drugs are brought into the streets, homes and schools of Cayman.
If these men had been successful, their drugs would have added to the social problems on the island, he pointed out.
“Drug abuse continues to be a significant problem,” the magistrate said.
He referred to cases before the court week in and week out: people who have lost their job, their family, their health because of drugs; parents spending scarce funds getting high and neglecting their children; then, by their behavior, teaching the children to disrespect the law.
The magistrate commended the officers in this case for their vigilance and bravery. The ganja was ordered to be destroyed and the boat was forfeited to the Crown.