Trial called off in case of drug smuggling trio

On 14 March, 2018, police seized several bags and packages that contained more than 300 pounds of ganja, 101 grammes of cocaine and 49.3 grams of ecstasy. - Photos: RCIPS

Three drug smugglers arrested with hundreds of pounds of ganja, a loaded gun, cocaine and ecstasy entered guilty pleas in the Grand Court Tuesday.

Assad Adana Walker, Fitzroy Ottey and Owen Omar Reid, all Jamaican nationals, were seen throwing packages off a canoe in March 2018. A joint police operation resulted in the packages being recovered and the men apprehended.

In the packages, officers found more than 300 pounds of ganja, 101 grammes of cocaine, 49.3 grammes of MDMA (commonly referred to as ecstasy) a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver handgun and 49 rounds of ammunition.

During initial Summary Court appearances in 2018, the men all pled guilty to the charges of importation of ganja and possession of ganja with intent to supply. Walker, Ottey and Reid denied the allegations surrounding the guns, ammunition and other drugs.

The men said they were paid to transport the drugs from Jamaica to Cayman, and that when they arrived at the departure location, the boat was already loaded. While they suspected the packages contained ganja, they denied ever knowing the other items were included in the packages.

After they entered not guilty pleas to the additional charges, the matter went to the Grand Court in March this year for its first trial.

On 15 March, four days after the initial trial began, Acting Justice Marlene Carter determined it could not proceed any further. After the trial was called off, Walker, Ottey and Reid’s defence counsel successfully petitioned the court in a cost application of $16,000.

On Tuesday, two days into the retrial of the men, Justice Frank Williams returned his ruling on a ‘Goodyear hearing’. A Goodyear hearing outlines the starting point a judge is likely to impose if a defendant enters a guilty plea. The actual sentence imposed would be dictated by individual mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

Police also seized a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver handgun and 49 rounds of ammunition.

Justice Williams’ Goodyear indication imposed a starting point of five years’ imprisonment for Walker and three and a half years for Ottey and Reid. Following his ruling, the court adjourned for 10 minutes and when it reconvened, Walker, Ottey and Reid entered guilty pleas to the remaining drug and gun charges.

The guilty pleas resulted in the trial being called off, and the jury, which was selected the day before, was released.

During the Goodyear indication, Crown prosecutor Nicole Petit said that the Crown was seeking to “balance the scales” in light of the cost application levied against it.

“I would not normally press for the imposition of fines during these circumstances,” said Petite. “However, in the interest of balancing the scales, I am now pressing the court to use its powers to impose fines as is prescribed by the law.”

Leading the charge against the imposition of any financial penalty was defence attorney Amelia Fosuhene. She argued that not only was it improper to impose financial penalties on the defendants during a Goodyear hearing, the reason for suggesting such penalties be imposed was also cause for alarm.

“What we have here are fines being packaged as a way to ‘balance the scales’, which, in my submission, is improper. The prosecution seeks to penalise my client because of their inability to prosecute the first trial adequately,” said Fosuhene. “They [the prosecution] wasted the court’s time, the jury’s time, and wasted Legal Aid’s budget; and now they want to fine my client. My client should not have the added strain of a possible financial penalty when considering whether he wants to plead guilty or not.”

Jonathon Hughes, who also represents one of the defendants, reinforced Fosuhene’s submissions, saying, “Imposing fines during this application only muddies the water and makes matters more difficult.”

He added, “There are plenty of authorities on this matter which advise against the imposition of fines. Furthermore, the men are not working; they are not from this jurisdiction; and they have no means to pay any fines.”

Addressing Justice Williams, Petit said the defence only sought to disgrace her colleague, Garcia Kelly, who prosecuted the first trial, a comment which was refuted by defence attorney Prathna Bodden.

“Instead of adjourning the matter on day one, they continued the trial all five days, despite being wholly unprepared for trial,” said Bodden. “Now, to suggest that the defence is seeking to shame a member of the Crown is completely unfounded and improper. Had the Crown not sought to impose fines on our clients, the issue of costs would have never been raised, and the matters surrounding the cancellation of the first trial would have never been discussed.”

Responding to the defence and the prosecution, Justice Williams said, “I don’t doubt that, in order for costs to have been rewarded, one party must have won or there must have been some sort of deficiencies within the Crown’s case.”

He added, “I don’t want to rule out the possibility of imposing fines at this stage.”
A sentencing hearing has been set for Thursday, 19 Sept.All three men were remanded into custody.

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