Jermaine Andrews, 18, of Cane Garden/Barrouallie, who was nabbed with an unlicensed firearm loaded with an extended magazine continuing 24 rounds of ammunition in Kingstown has been remanded in custody until Feb. 1 for sentencing.
On Wednesday, one day after fining another 18-year-old EC$11,500 for possession of a pistol and five rounds of ammunition, Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne, made it clear that the two cases were different.
She told Andrews that each case must be considered on its merits and the court needed time to properly consider his sentence.
“Gun crime is out of hand and all the circumstances must be considered. I am aware that imprisonment is not always the best and is not the only solution but the court has to consider the persons,” the chief magistrate said.
In mitigation, defence counsel Grant Connell had asked the court to impose a fine or a suspended sentence on the defendant.
He submitted a social inquiry report and a report from an educator at West St. George Secondary School, which Andrews attended but did not complete.
The report was not read in court but based on the references made to it, it was gleaned that Andrews was a privileged child whose father gave him a BMW to drive to school.
This might have affected his behaviour and his premature exit from the education system.
The prosecutor, Station Sergeant of Police Renrick Cato, noted the prevalence of firearms and firearm offences in the country and pointed to inconsistencies in Andrews’ account about how long he had had the firearm.
The prosecutor said that Andrews had told the police that he got the firearm from someone who was later killed but gave a counsellor a different account.
Cato said this information suggests that Andrews had the firearm in his procession for at least 17 days before being nabbed with it.
Connell objected to the calculation, but the court concluded that where 17 or a lower number, Andrews had the firearm in his possession for days before he was nabbed.
“I happened to be served with this social inquiry report this morning and I went through it briefly and I am always of the opinion that when you come to the court and seek mercy, you must seek mercy with honesty,” Cato told the court.
He said that what the defendant told the counsellor is contrary to what he told the police.
“On Jan. 17, he indicated to the police that he got the gun from a particular person, whose name I would not mention. That person is deceased and if he got it from that person, it is telling me that he had this gun before Dec. 31, 2022,” Cato said.
He said this meant that Andrews had the gun for at least 17 days.
iWitness News was reliably informed that Andrews told police that he got the firearm from someone who was killed in mid-December 2022.
“In the report, he told the counsellor he was going to take the gun to the police. He is living in Cane Garden and visits Barrouallie sometime. He is driving a car and Central Police Station is a stone’s throw away. There is a police station in Barrouallie. He had no intention of taking the firearm to the police,” the prosecutor told the court.
“Why would an 18-year-old child be driving around in St. Vincent, in Kingstown, with not only a gun with an ordinary magazine, a gun with an extended magazine and that time containing 24 rounds of ammunition,” Cato said.
He said that most police officers carry weapons with between 12 and 15 rounds.
“And his young man has 24 in his magazine,” he said.
At his arraignment at the Serious Offences Court on Jan. 18, Andrews pleaded not guilty to a charge that on Jan. 17 at the Grenadine Wharf, in Kingstown, he had in his possession one 9 mm pistol, make and seal number unknown, without a licence issued under the Firearms Act.
He pleaded similarly to a charge that on the same date and place he had in his possession 24 rounds of 9 mm ammunition.
Andrews was granted EC$12,000 bail with one surety, among other conditions, and the matter was adjourned to Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the defendant pleaded guilty to both charges.
In presenting the facts, Sergeant Atnel Ash told the court that on Jan. 17 about 11:30 a.m., PC 69 Ashton and other Port Police officers were on duty at Grenadines Wharf.
PC 69 Ashton and 653 Ambris were stationed at Gate 7 and Ambris alerted Ashton to a motor vehicle PE35, a black Nissan Tiida entering the same gate.
Andrews was the only occupant of the vehicle. The police found the firearm in a black, green and red Gucci bag under the front passenger seat of the car.
“Officer, everything in the bag is mine,” Andrews said when cautioned.
In mitigation, Connell told the court that Andrews did not pass CPEA but went on to West St. George Secondary School.
He was making some additional points, but the chief magistrate told him that the court had seen the documents that he had submitted and needed no further clarification on them.
Connell then considered the sentencing guidelines, telling the court that the prevalence of firearm offences was aggravating.
He noted that just the previous day there was a firearm matter involving another 18 years old before the court. He was referring to the case of Joel Williams, of New Montrose, who was fined EC$10,000 for firearm possession and EC$1,500 for possession of five rounds of ammunition.
The lawyer told the court that his client’s initial reaction and comment to the police were “really made out of fear and when he had the pleasure of sitting with police at the station, which usually provide a very hospitable environment, he was able to say that he got it from a friend”.
“That is not what is stated in the report where he said he got it,” the chief magistrate said.
Connell acknowledged this.
He argued that his client had voluntarily surrendered the firearm, in that he did not object to police searching the vehicles, which amounted to the discovery of the firearm and ammunition.
“I say that because the firearm was in a bag. It was not hidden in the upholstery or a part of the engine that is not easily accessible,” the lawyer said.
“The officers at the port were vigilant and worthwhile boots on the ground, so I commend them,” Connell said.
He argued that there were no aggravating features of the offender, adding that mitigating was his good character.
The lawyer said that since leaving school, his client applied for work at two places, and got a response from one, “but jobs, as we know, are not falling from heaven like manna.
“He has shown genuine remorse and steps taken to address behaviour, he has a family unit, albeit the parents were not on island, he had a grandfather and grandmother who he used to live with and used to go to church in his earlier days but he drifted from church and we can easily draw a nexus between when daft from church,” said Connell, who had earlier told the court that both of Andrews’ parent work in the Grenadines.
He said that his client did not try to run, adding that while his lack of maturity is not an excuse, it is significant.
“Every mitigating factor is in his favour,” the lawyer argued.
“If he goes to prison, it would compound the issue of him trying to get employment,” Connell said and ask the court not to impose a custodial sentence, adding that he knows this will be met with great resistance from the prosecution.
He said there was on Pastor Phillips who was outside the court who was outside, if the court was minded to hear from him regarding what the church is willing to do to assist Andrews.
Meanwhile, in his submissions, Cato noted that Andrews was found with a firearm under the front passenger seat of his vehicle.
He said that while Connell had spoken about the number of homicides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, he had not said that most of them are committing using firearms.
“Sometimes, we find ourselves among the wrong company, but he is not 9, he is not 10. He is 18. And based on the report, comes from good background,” the prosecutor said, referring to the social inquiry report
He noted that Connell had said that a pastor was present.
“… but it is striking to me what is only when young people find themselves in these sorts of situations, they remember there is something you called a pastor, a deacon or a church,” the prosecutor said.
Cato noted that an 18-year-old was fined the previous day for possession of a firearm. He, however, said that the court will adjudicate every case on its own merit.
“I am subbing that the one yesterday was way different from the one this morning,” Cato said, noting the amount of ammunition involved, and the company in which the teen was met, unlike in Andrews’ case.
The prosecutor said that Andrews had ample time to hand in the firearm if he planned to do so.
“I am asking the court that the sentence that the court imposes must be one of such that a glaring message must be sent to persons who are in possession or intend to obtain illegal firearms,” the prosecutor said.