NATION Judge throws out Cassie’s plea deal
“IF you have a gun to your ur head, are you guilty or are e you innocent?”
This question from Cassie e Sainsbury’s Bogota judge e sums up her upcoming chal- lenge, after her plea deal wass sensationally rejected yester- day because she refused too take full responsibility for trying to smuggle drugs out off Colombia.
The 22- year- old now faces decades in jail if she can’t prove her claims that thugs threatened to kill her family unless she agreed to carry 5.9kg of cocaine to London on April 12.
Sainsbury defied legal advice and the urgings of her family to scuttle the plea arrangement, which was hammered out between her lawyers and the Bogota Attorney- General’s office, for her to serve just six years jail. With good behaviour, she could have been out in half that time.
Senior Judge Sergio Leon yesterday told Bogota Special Court 2, which deals with narcotics cases and political prisoners, that Sainsbury’s claims meant he could not agree to the plea deal because her accepting responsibility was central to the arrangement.
At his announcement, Sainsbury’s mother Lisa Evans lurched forward in her seat in tears. Ms Evans and Sainsbury’s fiance Scott Broadbridge had pleaded with her to retract her claims of innocence.
“I advised her the best option was to plead guilty full stop but she was standing by her claims,” lawyer Orlando Herran said outside court.
For someone who has changed her story so many times – from drug- packed headphones as wedding gifts, to a document run to South America through Los Angeles and a research trip on behalf of a family cleaning company that never existed – it appears a huge gamble for Sainsbury to pin her freedom on being able to prove her claims of coercion. If found guilty, she faces between 21 and 30 years in jail.
“It’s high risk, but the benefit would be that she might be declared innocent and set free,” Herran said.
Judge Leon echoed this sentiment, saying after his ruling that if Sainsbury and her legal team manage to prove the threat, she could be sent home, adding: “It is possible that she is innocent.”
In a lengthy preamble ahead of his ruling yesterday, Judge Leon shed new light on Sainsbury’s arrest and levelled strong criticism at a “deficient” investigation by prosecutors.
Sainsbury told investigators she received a $ 10,000 money transfer from Western Union from a man named Nathan in Hong Kong for a trip to Bogota to deliver documents. Once she was in Colombia she said she had second thoughts about carrying documents for Nathan’s friend Angelo to London, and that he responded by sending her photos on the WhatsApp messaging service of her family and warning they would be killed. She said he also threatened her with a gun and said she was under “constant surveillance”, so in fright, she agreed to try to move what turned out to be the drugs.
Judge Leon said prosecutors had not checked her emails, WhatsApp messages or Western Union to try to support or disprove her claims. They had also not tried to find the mysterious Angelo, who was captured on CCTV at the Hotel Interbogota where she stayed from April 3 to 12 and where she said she was threatened.
Sainsbury is due in court within the next 90 days.