(THE DAILY HERALD) — Two women were sentenced by the Court of First Instance on Wednesday for having smuggled 3.28 kilogrammes of cocaine into St. Maarten on November 26, 2019.
The women were held by Customs at Princess Juliana International Airport on their arrival from Trinidad and Tobago. The illicit drugs were hidden behind panels in their suitcases.
Suspects Jeanelle Rhonda Griffin (25) from St. Lucia and Tanisha Sonelle Chan (38) from Trinidad both denied any knowledge of the drugs in their luggage and claimed they had been framed by a man identified as “Short Man”.
The cocaine was equally divided between the two suitcases, each of which contained 16 packages with 1.6 kilos of the substance. The drugs had a street value of US $100,000, the prosecutor said.
Chan seemed to be more open in her statements in which she said she had been framed by a “bad” man.
Griffin was more reluctant to make a statement. “I don’t know anything about the drugs,” was all she told investigators during questioning, declining to say more.
“I’m not lying. I’m telling you the truth. I want to return to my home and family. I’m not a drug smuggler,” she told the judge on Wednesday.
The prosecutor did not buy the women’s stories and called on the court to sentence them both to 24 months.
Attorney-at-law Sjamira Roseburg pleaded for acquittals, stating that both her clients had been “framed” by Short Man. “The drugs were hidden in the suitcases and the women could not have known that there were drugs hidden inside,” the lawyer said.
Roseburg also pointed out that her clients are held inside the overcrowded Pointe Blanche Prison without any coronavirus COVID-19 measures in place, such as extra cleaning and sanitation.
The judge said that both women might not have been intentional drug smugglers, but this does not mean that they could not be held responsible for what was in their luggage.
Chan had provided consistent statements about being set up. “That is possible. It happens, and I have no reason not to believe you,” the judge said in acquitting her of the charge of intentional drug smuggling.
Chan was sentenced to two months for unintentional smuggling. As she had already spent this time in pre-trial detention, the judge ordered her release.
The judge did not lend as much credibility to Griffin’s statement. “A set-up is possible, but you did not speak out to the authorities and during the hearing you copied the statement of your co-defendant. Therefore, I do not believe you,” the judge said in sentencing Griffin to 12 months, four of which were suspended.
Both defendants were released from detention and were handed over to Immigration authorities, attorney Roseburg informed later on Wednesday.
Chan, who hails from Trinidad, was flown out immediately because otherwise she would not have been able to fly home due to flight restrictions in connection with the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. Griffin, who is a national of St. Lucia, will be sent home as soon as possible, her lawyer stated.