PHILIPSBURG–In four separate cases six suspects appeared before a Judge in the Courthouse on Wednesday morning and in the afternoon. These cases had one thing in common: they all concerned suspected looters, who had taken merchandise and goods from stores and businesses in the aftermath of hurricane Irma.
All but one of the suspects, ranging between the ages of 27 and 60, were found guilty and sentenced to unconditional prison sentence of between three weeks and six months.
Linus Celestine (27) was the first of these suspects to be led in front of the Judge. He was accused of stealing some bottles of liquor and a coffee machine from Cost-U-Less on Bush Road.
Celestine, who was described by the Judge as an “ordinary guy with a job and girlfriend,” seemed shocked when he heard the Prosecutor call for an unconditional prison sentence of six weeks.
He did not think he had committed a serious crime, because he had done what “everybody” else did at the time, seizing the opportunity and taking what they could at a time of “chaos and confusion” right after the storm.
The Judge had no mercy and sentenced Celestine, who had spent one day in pre-trial detention, according to the Prosecutor’s demand.
Sixty-year-old Janite Surin also went on a “shopping spree” at Cost-U-Less on September 9, taking fruit juice, water and cleaning products.
The woman from Sandy Ground, who is making a living by selling soft drinks from an icebox on the streets, explained herself to the Judge in stating that “everybody took stuff” at Cost-U-Less.
“The police officer who was there told me I was allowed to take food items. I took these because everyone there was doing that, not me alone,” she told the Judge.
The store manager, however, had told the police that he had never given permission to anybody to take merchandise from the store.
“The police were posting outside to send everyone away, but after 24 hours they could no longer do this. By that time there were already items stolen,” the manager had said, adding that he could not protect the store.
The Prosecutor, who said that stealing in an emergency situation was totally unacceptable, called for three weeks imprisonment.
Attorney Marlon Hart requested a suspended sentence or community service, but his pleadings did not help his client, who was sentenced according to the Prosecutor’s demand.
The Judge said looters should not be getting away with a lesser sentence. The punishment should serve as an example to urge people to refrain from looting next time a hurricane strikes the island.
Yonathan Richardson (33) received three months for taking a washer/dryer, three toy cars, a barbecue and beach chairs from Cost-U-Less. The stolen items had an estimated value of well over US $1,000, the Judge stated.
The defendant took these items, “because everyone did that. I saw that many people were doing the same thing and I did not think that I was violating the law,” he told the Judge.
He said he regretted the acts, but the Prosecutor had his doubts about the suspect’s sincerity, considering he had “made a foray” for his own personal gain.
Car-rental owner Titus L. Maynard (28) and his father Remi L. Maynard (57), who is a taxi driver, were both convicted of the possession/fencing of a large number of stolen goods. A third member of the family, technician B.A.A.M. (30) was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Many stolen items, some still in boxes, wrapped in plastic or labelled, were found in the Maynard’s dwelling during a search. Among the items found were a TV, laptop computer, an oven, tools, luxury handbags and clothing.
The three men were suspected of looting right after the passing of hurricane Irma on September 9, carting away the stolen items in a truck.
The defendants denied the allegations and attempted to give differing statements about the origin of the goods, which they said were either recently purchased or were given to them as gifts.
Lawyer Geert Hatzmann pleaded for his clients’ acquittal because there was no direct evidence that they had stolen the items. The goods that were found were not reported stolen and, therefore, had no legal owner to return them to, the lawyer added.
The Judge said the lawyer had an “interesting point,” but still considered theft stolen, because of the labels, price tags and safety devices found on the merchandise.
Held for the main suspect in this case, Titus Maynard will have to spend six months in jail. His father was sentenced to six weeks. His brother was acquitted as no stolen items were found in his bedroom, the Court stated.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/70659-court-deals-with-looting-suspects