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1st of 5 Americans detained in Turks and Caicos faces sentencing

(NewsNation) — The first of the five Americans who were detained and charged with carrying ammunition after Turks and Caicos authorities say they found left in their luggage will learn his fate Friday during a sentencing hearing.

In Turks and Caicos Islands — a British territory — no firearms, weapons, or stray bullets are allowed on the islands. Local authorities strictly enforce firearms and ammunition-related laws.

Turks and Caicos said in a statement that it is “the travelers’ responsibility to ensure their baggage is free of” weapons and ammunition, which is “strictly forbidden” without prior permission.

Even within the U.S., improperly secured and undeclared ammunition or firearms found by airport security can result in a fine and criminal referral.

‘A very simple, honest mistake’

Bryan Hagerich, 39, was on vacation with his wife and their two young children when stray hunting ammunition was discovered in his luggage in February. He was detained by authorities and spent eight days in prison before posting bail.

Since then, Hagerich has remained on the island. So far, he’s missed several life events back home in the States, including his children’s birthdays.

Hagerich previously told NewsNation’s Chris Cuomo that he’s “absolutely terrified” about the possibility of prison time.

According to the Turks and Caicos Islands government, Hagerich pleaded guilty to carrying 20 rifle rounds in his luggage.

On Friday, Hagerich will learn his fate, facing a sentencing that could land him a minimum of 12 years in prison.

Hagerich is not alone. Four others have been stuck on the tropical island as well for the same exact reason.

Ryan Watson, Tyler Wenrich, Michael Evans and Sharitta Shinise Grier were also detained and charged with carrying ammunition in Turks and Caicos.

Ryan Watson

Watson, 40, and his wife, Valerie, visited the islands for a birthday trip in early April. But on April 12, as they were about to head home, they were stopped by airport security and escorted to the police station.

Airport authorities claimed to have found ammunition in Ryan Watson’s carry-on luggage. He called it a “bonehead mistake” and one that was accidental. Locals helped him post bail and he said he appreciates the people he’s met, but he aims to return home.

Watson’s next court date is set for June 7.

Tyler Wenrich

Wenrich, 31, has been in Turks and Caicos since April 20. His father told NewsNation that Wenrich spent three days in jail and was moved to a prison, spending a total of 14 days behind bars. He was released on bond and has been with his father since awaiting sentencing.

Wenrich said the bullets were “unknowingly left in a duffel bag from a deer hunting trip” that went unnoticed by airport authorities when they left the United States. 

Michael Evans

Evans, 72, was also detained and charged after authorities said they found bullets in his luggage in December. He was released on a $20,000 bond and was allowed to return to the States for medical reasons, as he has has terminal cancer.

He pleaded guilty to illegal possession of ammunition and faces the same minimum sentence of 12 years in prison. His sentencing has been scheduled for June.

Sharitta Shinise Grier

Grier, 45, of Orlando, was arrested May 13 and charged with one count of possession of ammunition, according to the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force. She was traveling with her daughter, who was also arrested but later released. Grier was visiting her daughters for Mother’s Day the day she was detained.

Grier appeared in the Magistrate Court last week and was remanded, according to police. A sufficiency hearing is set for July 5.

Up to the judge to decide, Turks and Caicos says

The latest statement from the Turks and Caicos government says no American has ever been handed a 12-year sentence for illegally possessing ammunition, and that a judge can impose a lesser sentence with a fine.

But the possibility of more than a decade in prison remains daunting for all five families.

The governor of Oklahoma says he is working behind the scenes to help free the four Americans.

Gov. Kevin Stitt previously called the charges against the four men, which includes one Oklahoman, “absurd.”

“We have to put pressure on Turks and Caicos and maybe have a travel ban there because this is just really, really, really odd that they are trying to put this guy away, all of these guys away,” he said on “Morning in America.” 

Earlier this week, a delegation of U.S. congressmen and senators traveled to Turks and Caicos to try and bring these Americans home. However, they were unsuccessful.

“(I’m) baffled by the weakness and incompetence of your department and you can prove me wrong. Issue a ‘do not travel’ and bring them home,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Penn., said to Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a House hearing this week. Blinken, who represents the U.S. to foreign countries, has the power to influence the five Americans’ release.

Blinken responded to the call for action: “We’ve brought Americans home from all over the world. It’s our number one priority and so I will apologize to no one over the efforts that our people make every day to help Americans who are in jeopardy.”

The Turks and Caicos government says three of the Americans have entered guilty pleas and two more will enter pleas in the next two weeks.

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