An unusual move was made on Thursday to free Shannon Martinez, a U.S. tourist who was sentenced to one year in jail for unlawful possession of ammunition on Wednesday. Instead, she spent only one day in prison and is reportedly back home with her family.
Sources close to the matter confirmed last night that the government intervened and a deal was struck for her release as soon as the authorities became aware of the conviction and sentence.
Prison sources, as well as police officers, confirmed that the matter was handled by the prison authority and government officials as U.S. authorities, reportedly, also got involved.
Those sources said they were disappointed with the manner in which the matter was dealt with and said the move should be condemned as an act of government interference in the work of the judiciary.
One source, who said the woman was escorted from the jail to the airport, said the government ought to have allowed the law to take its course by allowing Martinez’s lawyer, Michael Archibald, to file an appeal as is done in every other case in the country and as required by law.
Another police source, close to the prosecution unit, also weighed in, saying that judges and magistrates were given powers of sentencing and if a convicted person disagrees with the ruling, then the proper channel is to file an appeal.
“There are so many people who are in prison who believe their sentence is too harsh, but who is going behind closed doors and making deals to set them free? Look, we had a case in this country where a Japanese woman was sentenced and she had to serve her time. Who is this other woman that she could just get a deal and walk out of here after being sentenced?
“It really should not matter who she is anyway. Our authorities have really done us wrong. They have done wrong to the hundreds of prisoners in jail, many of them haven’t even been found guilty; they are there on remand. What message are we sending about justice and separation of powers?” the source posited.
Martinez, her husband and two children came to Antigua on holiday on June 1 and were scheduled to leave on Tuesday.
However, while they were being processed for departure, a box of 9mm ammunition was found in her luggage.
The box contained 20 bullets. The woman reported that she had bought the box of bullets in her country and had left it in the suitcase.
When she arrived in Antigua on June 1, the bullets were in the suitcase, she said, but apparently, no one noticed them.
The 41-year-old resident of Austin, Texas, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of ammunition in the All Saints Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday and Magistrate Ngaio Emanuel sentenced her to one year in jail.
Martinez’s husband stayed behind for her trial but the children were sent back to the U.S. that same day.
Michael Archibald who represented the woman declined comment when contacted last night while the Attorney General, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, initially said he would comment last night, but later pushed back the interview to today. Prime Minister Gaston Browne did not respond to questions made via Whatsapp about the matter.
Martinez’s sister had reached out to OBSERVER media from the U.S. asking whether the authorities could declare her sister persona non grata and remove her from the country immediately to avoid her serving the prison sentence.