The man who burglarised the Georgetown Police Station and stole one M4 rifle, two Glock 22 pistols and 305 rounds of ammunition will spend two years and eight months in prison for his crimes.
Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne handed down the sentence on Avi King at the Serious Offences Court, on Tuesday.
It is the longest of the sentences, which will run concurrently, that the court handed down on the 26-year-old Diamonds resident in relation to the crimes in which three other persons are charged with various numbers and types of offences.
The chief magistrate told King that he had also benefited from his cooperation with police, his early guilty plea, and the mitigation of counsel Nakita Charles, who acted amicus on his behalf.
Among the factors that worked in King’s favour was the fact that he had handed over to police two firearms that were unrelated to the heist at the Georgetown Police Station.
King was not charged in connection with these weapons.
The prosecutor, Sergeant of Police Renrick Cato, had noted King’s cooperation with the police and the fact that he had handed over two additional weapons.
He, however, asked the court to impose a sentence that reflected the seriousness of the crimes.
The court heard that King is unemployed, the father of a 3-year-old child and is expecting “three babies by January”.
King was sentenced one day after the court heard the facts in connection to the nine charges to which he had pleaded guilty on June 21, when he and his co-accused were arraigned.
After the sentencing, the prosecution withdrew the charge for which King had entered a not guilty plea.
King was charged with:
· Possession of criminal property.
· Possession of ammunition without a licence under the Firearms Act.
· Possession of Firearms without a licence under the Firearms Act
· Possession of a prohibited weapon without the authorization of the minister.
· Sale of ammunition without a dealer’s licence under the Firearms Act
· Sale of firearms without a dealer’s licence under the Firearms Act.
· Burglary with Intent
In handing down her sentence, the chief magistrate ordered confiscation to the Consolidated Fund of EC$3,200 in cash, which King admitted that he knew or suspected in whole or in part directly or indirectly represents the proceeds of criminal conduct.
The defendant was granted four months discount on his custodial sentences for the mitigating features of the offences and a further six months for the mitigating features of himself as an offender.
The court then applied the maximum one-third discount for an early guilty plea to each of the starting points.
· For possession of two Glock 22 pistols, the court began with a starting point of three years and nine months, and after the discounts, King was left with a sentence of two years and four months.
· For the sale of two magazines, each containing two rounds of ammunition, and the sale of two Glock 22 pistols, the court started the sentences at one year and nine months, leaving King with a final sentence of eight months.
· For possession of an M4 rifle, a prohibited weapon, the starting point was five years, which after the discounts were applied, left King with a sentence of two years and eight months.
· For burglarising the Georgetown Police Station, the court began with three years and five months, resulting in a sentence, after the discounts, of two years.
· For possession of 305 rounds of ammunition, King was sentenced to two years in prison.
· The sentences will run concurrently, meaning that King will serve the longest of the sentences: two years and eight months.
Lawyer: temper justice with mercy
In mitigation, Charles told the court that King lives with his parents and his pregnant girlfriend and his family is supportive of him.
He left the Georgetown Secondary School at Form 4 but went on to graduate from Georgetown Technical Institute as competent in electrical installation.
At the time of the offence, King was not employed full time but did electrical and construction jobs whenever the opportunity arose.
He is not a person of great means but used his skills to assist his family, the lawyer said.
King has one unrelated conviction in the distant past and this does not reflect a propensity to commit serious offences, she argued.
Charles spoke of the tremendous negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment opportunity globally, adding that while this is no excuse for King’s conduct, it had a suffocating impact on him as his inability to provide for his dependents consumed him.
King is the father of a 3-year-old child and is expecting three babies by January, the lawyer said, adding that the defendant’s father was unable to work because of illness and was due to undergo surgery the day after the sentencing.
King is the primary provider to his pregnant, unemployed girlfriend, whose family abandoned her because of the pregnancy.
His mother, the other occupant of their home, works three days per week and relied on King to assist with supporting the household.
King’s economic circumstances frustrated him and caused him not to think of all the possible, grave results of his actions, Charles told the court.
The defendant directed his mind solely to the financial benefits that could have been derived had the venture been successful.
Forced to face all the consequences, King was extremely remorseful and ashamed of his conduct, she said.
Charles further told the court that King would more than likely miss the birth of his three children and would be absent for part or all of their formative years.
She said that King’s post-arrest conduct reflects his remorse for his actions, adding that he pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and did not waste the court’s time.
She said that he cooperated fully with the police and during the investigation contributed significantly to the recovery of the weapons before they could be used to cause injury or damage to property.
The lawyer said that considering the sentencing guidelines, it might be a stretch to ask the court to impose a non-custodial sentence.
She however asked the court to consider the hardship that incarceration would have on King’s dependents.
She cited a case from St. Kitts and Nevis in which the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court found that provision of primary care to dependents is a factor that meets the mitigation threshold.
The lawyer asked that the sentence not be unduly severe so as to preclude King, with the support of his family, from making changes in his life in order to be a better example to his child and expected children.
Charles asked the court to temper justice with mercy.
Prosecutor: Make sentence true reflection of crime
Meanwhile, in his submission on sentencing, the prosecutor said that he must inform the court that, to King’s credit, during the investigation, he handed over to the police two weapons that had nothing to do with the extant investigation.
iWitness News understands that King handed over to police a shotgun and a 9 mm pistol.
The prosecutor noted that King had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and is still young.
Cato, however, said that setting these factors aside, the court must also consider the seriousness of the offences and the fact that they included a prohibited weapon, for which the maximum sentence, at the summary level, is 10 years in prison.
He noted that firearms expert Station Sergeant of Police Maxian Richardson, of the Special Services Unit, had told the court that the M4 rifle has a maximum effective range of 460 metres (1,509 feet) and had indicated that if the firearm was discharged at the court building in Lower Kingstown Park, it would reach the sea in Kingstown.
The prosecutor further said that the offences caused alarm in St. Vincent and the Grenadines because the weapons and ammunition were stolen from a police station — the property of the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I am asking the court … based on the number of offences, the influence he had on another person for the sale of these weapons, to let the sentence be a true reflection of the serious nature of these offences.
Cato said that firearm offences are sky high in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and when it is not unlawful possession, it is the unlawful use, including committing all sorts of offences, including murder.
He said that the court must protect the law-abiding citizens of the country.
The chief magistrate said that both submissions had credible points for consideration and arriving at the sentence would be a balancing act.
Browne said that King would get a discount for his early guilty plea.
She noted that he is quite young and highlighted the view of the Court of Appeal that the sentences imposed on young offenders should focus on deterrence and rehabilitation.
The chief magistrate said that King has many years ahead of him in which to make a useful contribution to his family and other dependants.
She, however, said that King could not escape the fact that the matters caused national concern and that a police station was involved.
King played a significant role in the recovery of the weapons and this will go to his credit, Browne noted, however.
She said that he was extremely cooperative with the police and assisted with the recovery of the weapons before they could be used to cause harm or damage.
Firearm offences, however, are not common assault offences, the chief magistrate pointed out, adding that in handing down the sentence, the court has to do a careful balancing act.
In handing down her sentences some hours after hearing the plea in mitigation and the prosecutor’s submission, the chief magistrate said that a mitigating feature was the manner in which King came into possession of the firearms and ammunition.
She said that the court felt that there was an element of intimidation in that a person used their public office to coerce King to go to government office, where the weapon and ammunition were handed to him.
She said she found no aggravating feature of the offender, adding that mitigating was his age, his clear remorse and the steps he had taken to correct his offending behaviour, including handing over to the police two weapons that were not subject of the investigation.
King pleaded guilty to charges:
· that between June 1 and 14, 2021, at Georgetown, he entered the Georgetown Police Station as a trespasser to commit an offence, to wit, theft;
· that between June 2 and 18, 2021, at Diamonds, he, Zackrie Latham, of New Grounds, and Meshach Dublin, of Diamonds, had in their possession criminal property, to wit, EC$3,200 in cash, which they knew or suspected in whole or in part directly or indirectly represents the proceed of criminal conduct;
· that on June 17, at Diamonds, he, Latham and Dublin had in their possession 305 rounds of ammunition without a licence issued under the Firearms Act;
· that between June 2 and 17, 2021, at Sion Hill, not being a licenced firearm dealers, he, Latham and Dublin sold one Glock 22 pistol, serial number LNL 155 to one “Pet”, of Sion Hill;
· that between June 2 and 17, 2021, at Sion Hill, not being a licensed firearm dealers, he, Latham and Dublin sold one magazine with 15 rounds of .40mm ammunition to one “Pet”, of Sion Hill;
· that on June 17, 2021, at Kingstown, not being a licensed firearm dealers, he, Latham and Dublin sold one Glock 22 pistol, serial number LNL 144 to Myron Samuel, of Layou;
· that on June 17, 2021, at Kingstown, not being licensed firearm dealers, he, Latham and Dublin sold one magazine with 15 rounds of .40mm ammunition to Myron Samuel, of Layou;
· between June 1 and 4, 2021, at Georgetown, he and Latham had in their possession, one M-4 rifle, serial number W877775, a prohibited weapon, without the authorisation of the minister;
· that between June 1 and 18, 2021, at Georgetown, he and Latham had in their possession one Glock 22 pistol, serial number LNL151, without a licence issued under the Firearms Act; and
· that between June 1 and 28, 2021, at Georgetown, he and Latham had in their possession, one Glock 22 pistol, serial number LNL144, without a licence issued under the Firearms Act.
Latham, 25, a former police constable, and Dublin, a labourer, have both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
At their arraignment on June 21, Dublin had initially pleaded guilty to these charges as well as three other counts brought against him but changed his pleas to not guilty on Monday.
He has been granted bail and is slated to be tried at the Colonarier Magistrate’s Court, on July 29.
King and Latham both pleaded not guilty to a charge that between June 1 and June 18, 2021, at Georgetown, they had in their possession one Glock 22 pistol, serial number LNL155, without a licence issued under the Firearms Act.
After King was sentenced on Tuesday, Cato told the court that the prosecution was withdrawing this charge against him.
And, Myron Samuel, 28, self-employed, of Layou, has pleaded not guilty to the three charges brought against him.
Samuel, a former national footballer, is accused of purchasing a pistol and 15 rounds of ammunition allegedly stolen from the police station, as well as possession of a firearm and ammunition without a licence.
He is expected to reappear before the Serious Offences Court on Friday.