Five men were sentenced on Friday for importing 555.95 pounds of ganja in the early hours of Jan. 25, 2018.
The two who pleaded guilty received a full one-third discount, but they had aggravating factors, which Magistrate Valdis Foldats explained before sentencing Yoandy Swaby-Ebanks to 34 months and Terry Christopher Wright to 30 months.
The other three men pleaded not guilty, but were found guilty after a trial that concluded last month. These defendants, Oshane Nickoy Ricketts, 29; Andre Washington Robinson, 34; and Nicholas Odell Maxam, 31; all received 42 months.
The magistrate said these were stern sentences, but courts in Cayman had to deter and denounce drug offenses because of the many social problems they caused. The lure of fast money from the drug trade did entice individuals, but he hoped the message of stiff sentences would get through to anyone contemplating involvement.
The maximum for a first offense of importation is seven years. Magistrate Foldats used four years as his starting point.
Summing up the case, as presented by Crown counsel Darlene Oko, he said Mr. Swaby-Ebanks and another man were in a boat in the North Sound off the coast of Barkers, West Bay. They met up with another boat that had ganja aboard. The ganja was transferred to the boat Mr. Swaby-Ebanks was in. Mr. Wright, who had been on the delivery boat, went aboard the receiving boat, which headed to shore. They were captured on land, while the unnamed other man escaped.
Meanwhile, the delivery boat sped away, arriving in Cayman Brac the next day. The three men on this vessel pleaded guilty to illegal landing, but not guilty to importing ganja, saying they were fishermen who had been drifting after their engines failed in bad weather.
In passing sentences, the magistrate distinguished between the defendants.
He rejected Mr. Swaby-Ebanks’s claim that he was simply out fishing and got caught up with what happened. He said this defendant had not been pressured or coerced into taking part. He did plead guilty early and expressed remorse, but initially gave different accounts. The magistrate also considered his record of previous convictions, which raised the 48-month starting point to 51 months. The full one-third discount reduced Mr. Swaby-Ebanks’s sentence to 34 months.
Mr. Wright had admitted being in “a financial jam” and was looking to make money. The aggravating factor in his case was a previous conviction for possession of ganja with intent to supply in 2007, when he also admitted to landing illegally. With the 2018 offense, he was subject to a maximum sentence of 15 years. The magistrate raised his starting point to 51 months.
He then considered Mr. Wright’s offer of assistance to the prosecution. He had volunteered to be interviewed by police but then did not give any useful evidence when called as a witness in the trial of the three men who pleaded not guilty. The magistrate said the courts wanted to encourage and reward individuals who help bring others to justice, but it was not appropriate to give a discount for “incomplete” assistance.
However, he acknowledged, time in custody would be harsher for Mr. Wright than for the other defendants and he had exposed himself and his family to a certain amount of risk. For this mitigating factor, the magistrate gave a discount of six months, reducing the sentence to 45 months. From this term, he deducted one-third for the guilty plea, reaching the final sentence of 30 months.
The three men who pleaded not guilty had no previous convictions, the magistrate noted. He agreed with defense attorneys that foreign nationals imprisoned in Cayman were away from the support of family and friends. Allowing a six-month reduction for mitigating factors, he arrived at sentences of 42 months for each of the three.
Other offenses, such as failing to provide a urine sample for testing, were either left on file or met with concurrent sentences because they arose from the same set of facts.
The magistrate said time in custody will count. He ordered the boat to be forfeited to the Crown, the ganja to be destroyed and the non-Caymanian defendants to be recommended for deportation on completion of their sentences.