Witness can’t claim self-defence over illegal gun

| 13/09/2016 | 9 Comments

Cayman News Service(CNS): A 22-year-old man from West Bay is hoping that his evidence in a murder case that helped put two killers behind bars will see him avoid a mandatory ten years in jail over the possession of an illegal gun. Justin Ebanks (left) was caught with and has admitted having a small Beretta firearm in January, which he acquired after threats were made to his life because he was a witness in the trial of Osbourne Douglas and his brother, Justin Ramoon, for the murder of Jason Powery. But the court heard that the young man could not claim self-defence to avoid the serious charge.

During a sentencing hearing before Justice Charles Quin Tuesday, the court heard how Ebanks was one of only two witnesses that came forward, prepared to give evidence over what was believed to be a gang-related shooting outside a George Town bar in the summer of 2015, where there were many more people who saw the killing but remained silent.

After he gave a statement about seeing the murder and who shot Powery, the brothers were charged, and although Ebanks became the subject of an anonymity order, police and prosecutors were not able to keep his identity under wraps for legal reasons. He soon became a target and received threats to his own life. Just before he was arrested with the weapon, the police had been making arrangements for Ebanks to go to a safe house because of security concerns.

In the end however, he was taken into custody in January when police were called to Kelly’s Bar in West Bay after a report that Ebanks had been seen there with a gun. At the time of his arrest Ebanks told the police he had the gun for his own protection.

But during the sentencing hearing Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran said that the law was clear and Ebanks could not claim self-defence as a defence to the possession of the gun, regardless of the genuine security issues. Moran said that would set a dangerous precedent as the law did not permit anyone to be illegally armed because of the escalating gun violence in Cayman.

He said it could not be considered an exceptional circumstance against the mandatory minimum sentence “and if the court sanctioned it”, that would mean condoning the possession of guns as a way of meeting gun violence with more guns. But the senior prosecutor said that the court could reduce a mandatory minimum sentence by as much as two-thirds for assistance to the authorities.

He said it was “regrettably a common feature that witnesses are reluctant and unwilling to help the police”, which created problems for the entire criminal justice system in Cayman. Judges have already accepted cooperation with the crown as a justification for exceptional circumstances and moving away from mandatory sentences.

But Moran said that, given the fact that Ebanks had gone to a bar armed with the loaded gun, it was still appropriate to mark the seriousness of the offence and the need to deter others with a custodial sentence.

Defence attorney John Furniss accepted that his client could not claim self-defence, despite the very real threats to his life. These had continued when he was incarcerated in HMP Northward, where the two men he was giving evidence against were also being held.

Furniss said significant concerns had arisen over Ebanks’ security when the anonymity order was lifted a few weeks before his arrest. He pointed out that there had been several high-profile cases in Cayman that had been derailed by witnesses refusing to come to court, but despite the threats and his exposure, Ebanks never recanted his evidence.

“From early on and throughout he was prepared to give evidence,” Furniss said, noting that a conviction was recorded against the two men for murder, the worst possible crime.

The murder case was the reason why Ebanks had the gun and Furniss made it clear that the young man would not have been threatened or armed himself if he had not been a key prosecution witness. As a result, while self-defence could not be a defence, it explained the reason for the weapon and was linked to his assistance to the authorities.

Furniss said Ebanks had set an example when many others declined to come forward and he should be commended and exceptional circumstances applied. Furniss said it was important to send a message to those willing to help the police that they can expect to have their own cases reviewed and sentences cut.

Still a very young man who had worked in the watersports sector before his arrest, Ebanks had just one conviction for assault and was considered a “reliable and truthful” witness during the trial, the judge said. Despite some confusion during cross-examination in the murder trial, the judge said he accepted that Ebanks had acquired the gun in question after he had witnessed the murder and not before.

Justice Quin told Ebanks that he wanted time to consider the case and would deliver his sentencing decision later this month.

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Comments (9)

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  1. The Sheriff says:

    Give the man a retroactive firearms licence, he deserves it. Obviously the police cannot protect him.

  2. Anonymous says:

    After what I saw a cop do to one of my co workers who had spotted him using his cell phone while driving (he must have caught him doing something very wrong) I would be terrified to provide any evidence to the police. I have never seen so many dirty cops anywhere. Hopefully the new commissioner can do a little clean up as this senior officer had a junior with him and now that junior (female) is learning the wrong way to be a police officer. I told my co-worker that he should have made a complaint but he was so intimidated by what the cop had said and done that he didn’t feel it worth more trouble. Until the police are clean the streets will never be.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This is an ongoing trial. Why are the comments open?

    CNS: His guilt has been established. This was a sentencing hearing.

  4. MM says:

    Apparently there are some private prisons that our Government can strike a deal with for as low as USD$24,000 per annum, per prisoner….

    I do not know about anyone else but I am damn well tired of worrying about being in the same vicinity (and worst with children) as a partially illiterate, ambitious-less, ill-bred, criminal-minded and misguided CHILD holding a loaded gun!

    You can’t go to the bank without wondering when it will be held up, you can’t go to the gas station without wondering if someone will storm in with a gun while you are checking out, you can’t go to bed without thinking someone is trying to pick your lock, you can’t go walking in the evening in quiet areas… it is ridiculous!

    This is an island with 60,000 people, we really cannot find a solution to this problem???

    Oh yes, our Government is still implementing solutions to the problems we have had for 40 years, I guess we have about 30 more years to go before we begin working on the gun crime issues….

    • MM says:

      And as a side note, I am not making this comment suggesting that this young man should be exported to serve time – he has certainly shown commendable bravery in getting those two off the street who I am very well aware have been on the criminal side of life since about 12 years old! XXXXX

      Ebanks should certainly be shown some form of leniency for his assistance to authorities.

      Having your life threatened by two violent murderers would have been enough to turn anyone away from giving evidence. If the Court cannot provide him a really good reduction, then the police (or if it must be made by law) should provide a provision that gives him an agreed payment each year (or monthly) for a period of time in consideration of his assistance with taking evil off our streets – something MUST be done to encourage others to step out and speak up!

      • Anonymous says:

        What exactly do you find commendable about carrying a firearm ILEGALLY for “protection”? What was he going to do with it?… The same exact thing he testified against… What does that make him? Ask about him in the streets they will tell you what he is about. Don’t be so quick to take your hat off to this individual.

        • MM says:

          Did someone commend him for carrying a fire arm? I missed that part.

          However, I did commend him for giving evidence despite threats to life and the vast public opinion that helping the police is a risk to self because of their inability to protect witnesses. So, yes, for that he does deserve commendation.

          • Anonymous says:

            Apologies MM.. Will ask you this instead then.. Why do you feel he should be shown leniency for carrying an illegal firearm, to ultimately do the same thing as what he testified against? He was brave in his testimony we get it.. So I guess this gives him a valid enough reason to walk around with a firearm? Surely this is what you’re implying by suggesting leniency for his sentencing

      • Anonymous says:

        Furthermore, if he was so fearful of his life why was he at the same bar that he frequents at least every other day? He surely wasn’t trying to make himself hard to find.

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