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Turks and Caicos backtracks on ammunition law that landed American tourists behind bars
Turks and Caicos backtracks on ammunition law that landed American tourists behind bars
Turks and Caicos backtracks on ammunition law that landed American tourists behind bars

Published on: 06/19/2024

Description

Turks and Caicos Islands has repealed a mandatory minimum of 12 years in prison as punishment for ammo offenses after arrests of five American tourists.

The government of the Turks and Caicos Islands has repealed a mandatory minimum of 12 years in prison as punishment for firearms offenses after the law ensnared at least five American tourists who were found with stray bullets in their luggage at an airport in the Caribbean hot spot, according to local reports.

The country's parliament agreed unanimously to revise the new ordinance after "a great deal of flacking" from American lawmakers, the country's Newsline TCI reported.

In May, a bipartisan congressional delegation flew to Turks and Caicos and appealed in person for the U.S. citizens' release.

The change came just before Oklahoma resident Ryan Watson was due in court Wednesday. He is one of five Americans charged under the law in the past few months.

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Watson, a 40-year-old from Edmond, has been freed on bond but required to remain in the island country since his arrest in April, when authorities there found ammunition in his bag at the airport. 

He could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Watson and others facing the same charge each had a handful of stray bullets in their bags when local authorities arrested them. Under the prior version of the law, they would be required to prove their arrests happened under "exceptional circumstances" to avoid harsh penalties. Under the revised law, the court has greater discretion to impose a lesser sentence.

"This legislative change is a critical step in ensuring our legal system is both just and flexible," the parliament's Opposition Leader Edwin Astwood told The Sun TCI, another local paper. "It acknowledges that not all cases are alike and that our judges must have the ability to consider all factors and impose sentences that are truly just and appropriate."

He said the goal is to uphold the rule of law – but also to differentiate between genuine threats and people who made a mistake.

Turks and Caicos's top prosecutor, Attorney General Rhonadlee Braithwaite Knowles spearheaded the revision, according to Newsline.

Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The requirements for "exceptional circumstances" included proving they have no prior criminal record, they did not intend to bring ammunition into the airport and why a 12-year sentence would be excessive in their cases.

Watson previously told Fox News Digital the ammunition was left over from a prior hunting trip and was not part of his vacation plans. 

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"We had no intentions of ever bringing anything into this country…It was just trying to pack board shorts and flip-flops, and that was all we were concerned about bringing," Watson previously told Fox News Digital. "So…it never dawned on us to research any of these things. And there are a lot of locals that have been just such a blessing and have had such gracious hearts."

The other Americans charged under the ordinance include Bryan Hagerich, a 39-year-old Pennsylvania father of two and former professional baseball player, who came home after more than 100 days in jail after the court agreed to fine him $6,500 and avoid prison.

3 US GOVERNORS ASK TURKS AND CAICOS TO RELEASE AMERICANS DETAINED OVER AMMO

Texas' Michael Lee Evans, 72, pleaded guilty to possessing seven rounds of ammunition, according to The Sun Turks and Caicos, a local newspaper. He was still awaiting sentencing but had been allowed to return to the United States due to a serious illness, according to authorities.

Virginia's Tyler Wenrich was freed in May after paying a $10,000 fine.

Watson is expecting to learn his fate Friday. Sharitta Grier, of Florida, is also awaiting her sentencing.

News Source : https://www.foxnews.com/us/turks-caicos-backtracks-ammunition-law-landed-american-tourists-behind-bars

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