Possession of an unlicensed firearm and 123 grams of cocaine added up to eight years imprisonment after Javier Howell pleaded guilty to both offenses.
Mr. Howell, 26, who has been in custody since October 2016, entered his pleas earlier this month and Justice Michael Wood passed sentence on Thursday.
Senior Crown counsel Candia James told the court that there was a murder, of Justin Manderson, 24, in the early hours of Oct. 1, 2016 at the Seven Mile Shops on West Bay Road. There was reason to suspect that a white car belonging to Mr. Howell might have been involved.
A search led to the parking lot at the Lantern Point condominium complex. On Oct. 14, Mr. Howell was located in an apartment occupied by his then-girlfriend and her flatmate. The vehicle was towed to the police station, where it was searched. Officers recovered a pistol from the trunk. It was a Kimar 9 mm, blank-firing pistol which had been modified to fire live ammunition, Ms. James said.
The defendant’s fingerprints were found on the grip, while his DNA was found near the trigger and hammer. The search also uncovered six rounds of ammunition and a plastic bag with a scale and just over four ounces of what proved to be cocaine.
Mr. Howell was remanded in custody. Although he had previous convictions, Ms. James described them as relatively minor and noted that he had never been in custody before.
She said the Crown had no information as to how Mr. Howell had come into possession of the items. On his own admission, he had the gun for two weeks. He failed to turn it over to police and he did not assist police with the identity of those he alleged had placed the weapon in his vehicle. He pleaded guilty to trafficking in cocaine.
Defense attorney Lee Halliday-Davis spoke in mitigation. She said Mr. Howell had given an account of how he came into possession of the firearm, but it was not accepted by the Crown.
She agreed that he was in the vicinity of Seven Mile shops on Oct. 1, 2016 and his car was seen leaving the area.
The firearm in the car was not involved in the shooting, she emphasized. There was no indication it was used in any offense. The examining officer described the gun as dirty and unkept, and the breech end of the barrel was “blown apart” when it was fired.
The attorney explained that Mr. Howell was interviewed about the murder as a witness, and bail was opposed on the basis that it was for his own protection. He was placed in a high-risk unit where he was assaulted by another inmate. He had been bullied and threatened. He suffered from depression and felt vulnerable. Ms. Halliday-Davis referred the judge to reports from two psychiatrists.
She accepted that Mr. Howell did have the opportunity to let police know about the gun, but she suggested that maybe he did not have the presence of mind to work his way out of the situation. She asked the judge to look behind the offense and look at the person. She pointed out that the illegal items had been found in one search on the same day, and asked for concurrent sentences.
Justice Wood said those who look after firearms are just as culpable and guilty as the people who possess them. He said the defendant could have made arrangements for police to recover the firearm without him being considered an informant.
The judge said he found no exceptional circumstances. The ammunition was an aggravating feature. If Mr. Howell had contested the firearm charge, the judge said he would have imposed 10 years, but he discounted that by 20 percent to arrive at a sentence of eight years.
The sentence for possession of cocaine with intent to supply would have been 12 years, but with full discount for the guilty plea, it was eight years. Justice Wood said he would make the sentences concurrent and the time Mr. Howell had spent in custody is to be deducted.
He issued forfeit and destruction orders for the firearms and cocaine.