Zipporah John, 32-year-old housekeeper residing at Ashton, Union Island, will know her fate May 5 on charges of cocaine possession, and drug trafficking.
At the Serious Offences Court on Wednesday, John, who is originally from Barrouallie, pleaded guilty to possession of 38,707 grams (37.7 kilos) of cocaine with intent to supply. She also pleaded guilty to possession of the drug for the purpose of drug trafficking.
Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne adjourned presentation of the facts as well as sentencing to Thursday, as there was no representative from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Court at the time, due to a workshop the state lawyers were attending which was expected to conclude on Wednesday.
However, on Thursday following the presentation of the facts, a mitigation plea from John’s attorney Grant Connell, and response from Prosecutor Renrick Cato, the Magistrate adjourned sentencing to May 5 to carefully consider all the circumstances of the case, as well as representations from the defence and the prosecution.
The facts as presented by Court Clerk, Sergeant Atnel Ash, revealed that around 7:50 p.m. on April 25, acting on information received, Corporal 771 Mikiel Bowens headed a patrol of officers from the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) to John’s home at Union Island, to execute a warrant. On arrival, John was met outside, and Corporal Bowens identified themselves as police officers, informed her of their duties, and read the warrant.
John consented to the search, and she was asked if she had anything illegal to declare. She replied, “Ah how you all find me,” and then told the officers to “search.”
Bowens saw a blue barrel next to John’s bed. He opened it and noticed three buoys inside. They were removed in the presence of the defendant and another officer. One package from each buoy was cut open revealing a whitish substance resembling cocaine.
When John was cautioned, she gave the alias of someone who she claimed gave her the things to hold. THE VINCENTIAN has chosen not to publish the persons/alias to whom John referred.
Bowens continued the search of the house but nothing else illegal was found.
The buoys, the packages, which amounted to 35, and the defendant were taken to the Ashton Police Station. All the packages were taken from the buoys and cut open revealing what appeared to be cocaine.
In mitigation, Connell told the Court that John’s friend had given her the buoys with the packages to hold for him, after a boat he was travelling on broke down. The lawyer said his client thought it was marijuana.
In a statement to the police, which Connell read in Court, John said in part, “Later that day the police came by me and me tell dem whey de weed dey.”
John also said in the statement, “If me been know is dem ting dey, me nah would ah tek it. Me sorry me tek it. Me nah know ah dem ting dey. Me nah dey in dem ting.”
According to Connell, given the way the buoys were sealed she would not have known what it was. It could have fooled anybody.
Connell, however, commended the RRU officers for their recent move towards taking the cocaine off the streets, and said that Inspector Nolan Dalaway, popularly known as Grandpa of the RRU, seems to be training them well. “They are officers who are doing well and must be commended,” Connell said. But the Magistrate told him that Corporal Bowens, who led that operation, has always been an excellent police officer.
Connell requested a suspended sentence, saying that his client should not be sent to prison to mix with hardened criminals.
“She is not a hardened criminal. She is not a cocaine smoker, she is not a cocaine pusher, she was just used as a convenience,” the lawyer pleaded.
John, according to Connell, is the mother of three children ages 3, 10 and 14 whom she has to maintain.
“She never broke the law. She walked the straight and narrow for 32 years. This is an honest hard working woman,” Connell added.
John, he continued, was remorseful, cooperated with the police, and pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity.
But Prosecutor Cato, in his response, said he was concerned that John did not communicate the issue regarding the boat from the beginning, and questioned why omitted it.
Cato stressed the seriousness of the offences, highlighting that the quantity of the drug amounted to 37.7 kilos, and one kilo, wholesale, was valued at $30,000. That put the value of the cocaine with which John was found at over $1 million.
In pointing out that cocaine was a Class A drug, and possession with intent to supply carries a maximum penalty of $500,000 and seven years in prison, he again cited that the defendant was charged, not only for possession of cocaine with intent to supply, but also with the offence of drug trafficking.
Cato suggested that if the Court was to pass a suspended sentence, it would raise the question about what message it would send to the mules, and those who take advantage of them.
A custodial sentence would be appropriate as John was in no position to pay a fine, Cato posited.