Suspended customs officer Claude Anthony Terry was found not guilty on Friday of unlicensed firearm charges dating from August 2016.
A jury of five women and two men deliberated less than half an hour before returning their unanimous verdicts.
In summing up the case, Justice Michael Wood had told jurors that the question for them was – were they sure that on Aug. 23, 2016, Mr. Terry was knowingly in control of the Smith & Wesson revolver and eight rounds of ammunition found that day in a box inside the water tank behind his Cayman Brac apartment.
The judge referred to evidence that anybody could have had access to the water tank whether they lived at the apartment complex or not.
There was evidence that the cover to an opening in the tank did not have a lock.
The judge discussed the box, which the jury had seen. It was a gray Pelican-brand container. Mr. Terry, when he gave his evidence, had demonstrated how to make the box air-tight and water-tight with a seal, pressure latches and a knob that had to be turned tightly. The judge pointed out that the box when found had not been made water-tight because there were water spots on the contents, including the gun, bag of bullets and a can of pepper spray.
There were no fingerprints on anything.
Justice Wood referred to evidence that the defendant’s DNA was “all over the gun.” But Mr. Terry said he had touched the gun on various occasions when he was trying to make room in a cabinet in which confiscated items were kept at the Customs Enforcement Office at the District Administration Building. The DNA expert witness had told the court that DNA could last for years.
Before his arrest, Mr. Terry had expressed concern about the safe storage of items seized. The judge described the security of stored items as “shambolic,” emphasizing that it was his word, not the defendant’s. Mr. Terry had described things as “lackadaisical.”
Crown prosecutor Kenneth Ferguson had called the police sergeant who was in charge of distributing pepper spray to authorised users on the Brac. This officer said he had created a computer file in which he listed who had received which containers and when. However, when asked to check the file, he found it was corrupt and information could not be retrieved. He said he did remember issuing pepper spray to Mr. Terry, but he could not put a date to it.
Based on this evidence, the judge instructed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty to a charge of possessing a prohibited weapon without authorization.
Defense attorney Crister Brady addressed the jurors before the judge did. He pointed out that their job was not to decide who had put the box in the water tank; their job was to decide if Mr. Terry had put it there.
If it was his, why did he not keep it in his house where it would be safe, Mr. Brady wondered. When he saw his landlord’s employee doing some work around the water tank, why did not he just go out and retrieve the box? When he saw the landlord and police inspector there, why didn’t he just go out and get the box? He could have explained that he had kept it in the tank because he didn’t want his girlfriend to see it in the house, Mr. Brady suggested.
The landlord said in his evidence that Mr. Terry had come out and asked if they had found his “box.” Mr. Terry said he had asked if they found his “case” – referring to the case for his cellphone, which he said had accidentally dropped into the tank the previous Saturday. A phone case was later found in the tank.
The landlord was pretty sure about what he heard, but honest people make mistakes, Mr. Brady said.
He wondered why the police inspector did not ask Mr. Terry about the box at the scene. Instead, she told him to go back into his apartment. Hours went by before other police officers came to arrest him.
Crown witnesses had confirmed that there were people who did not like Mr. Terry, who had filed complaints against other civil servants. Would someone put this “kit” together in the hope that Mr. Terry would be removed from his job? Mr. Brady queried. One of the people who might not like the defendant had not even been interviewed by police, the attorney pointed out.
He asked the jury to send Mr. Terry back to work.