Prime Minister Gaston Browne said had the prison superintendent not moved to reduce the one year sentence of convicted U.S. visitor Shannon Martinez and sought her release, Antigua and Barbuda would have had “a diplomatic situation” on its hands.
“Ultimately, if we did not act, it would have been a diplomatic issue too. I am quite sure that the U.S. officials would have been concerned, you know, about one of their citizens being imprisoned for something as simple as that,” he said over the weekend.
He hastened to add that the government here however, “acted on its own discretion” and “not” based “on any intervention by U.S. officials.”
Browne said he believes the decision to release her after she had only served one day in prison, was “sensible” and that it was “unfortunate” that Martinez forgot the bullets in her luggage.
The country’s leader highlighted that fact that the woman and her family were on vacation and said it was difficult to agree with separating her from her husband and two children “for something as simple as that” as he noted that it is not illegal to buy or possess bullets in the U.S.
Had the laws in the U.S. been different, he said “it would have been a different ball game.” The PM said there is no need for a “big brouhaha” about the release of the visitor.
He also spoke to the issue of the law under which the woman was sentenced after pleading pleaded guilty in the All Saints Magistrate’s Court before Magistrate Ngaio Emanuel.
First, he said he “is not second guessing” the sentence because “the magistrate did what she had to do, though some people saw the sentence as being excessive.”
He noted that although recent amendments to the Firearms Act speak to mandatory imprisonment for such offences, magistrates also have power to impose alternative sentences “where there are extenuating circumstances.”
This falls under Section 96 of the Magistrate’s Code of Procedure Act, which says that “where [a magistrate] is authorized to inflict imprisonment and has not the option of imposing a fine he may impose a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars.”
OBSERVER media was told, by a source close to the matter, that the law was recently amended and the fine has been increased to $20,000. However, there is no evidence of this in the online laws/gazette; and the Attorney General put off to Saturday, an interview he agreed to do on Friday; then could not be reached on Saturday, while yesterday, he said he would speak “some other time.”
Meanwhile, www.kxan.com news in the U.S., reported over the weekend that family and friends had already started coming together to raise funds to help in whatever way they could.
The Austin Fire Department (AFD) also got involved since Martinez’s husband, Eddie Martinez, is a battalion chief for the department.
The news agency reported that the AFD Division Chief Palmer Buck said the fire department was notified that a deal was underway on Thursday and everyone was ordered to keep quiet.
“The directions we were given were, “‘Stop, stop, stop. Don’t do anything, don’t talk. We need to keep it quiet. Keep it off social media, and don’t start causing demonstrations’ and what have you,” Buck said.
Buck said a deal was reached that Thursday and Martinez was released from the Antiguan prison.
He however never mentioned details of the deal since, according to him, he was not privy to the information.
Prison and police sources have accused the government and prison officials here of interference, saying the matter ought to have been treated just like any other case where a convicted person is required to appeal, through a higher court, any sentence with which he or she disagrees.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Browne speaking on his radio station, Point FM on Saturday, said there may be inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison who are deserving of early release too.
He said, following this latest development, he has asked the attorney general, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, to speak with the prison superintendent Albert Wade, about reviewing for second time, whether there are prisoners who are eligible for remission of time on their sentences.
Browne said that perhaps the inmates who work outside the prison with the Home Advancement Programme for the Indigent (HAPI) could be granted reprieve given their contributions to society under the programme which is a collaborative effort of the government and a private group.