June 16, 2024

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American pleads guilty to bringing ammunition into Turks and Caicos a day after lawmakers press for US citizens’ release

2 min read

By Lauren Mascarenhas and Rebekah Riess, CNN

(CNN) — One of five Americans facing a possible 12-year prison sentence in Turks and Caicos for allegedly bringing ammunition onto the island pleaded guilty on Tuesday, according to Turks and Caicos officials.

Tyler Wenrich, a 31-year-old American, pleaded guilty to two counts of ammunition possession during a court hearing on Tuesday morning, Dr. Angela Brooks, deputy director of public prosecutions in Turks and Caicos, told CNN.

Wenrich is one of five Americans arrested in recent months in the British Overseas Territory, where carrying firearms is prohibited.

The Americans carried the ammunition in their luggage “inadvertently,” according to American lawmakers, and now face up to a dozen years in prison.

Wenrich’s hearing comes on the heels of a push from a bipartisan group of US lawmakers who traveled to Turks and Caicos to press for their release – but encountered resistance from officials on the island, the lawmakers announced Monday.

Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin led the trip, which also was attended by Democratic Sen. John Fetterman and GOP Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, Josh Brecheen, Michael Cloud and Bob Good. The lawmakers met with Turks and Caicos officials, including the governor, attorney general, minister of tourism and police leaders, the statement from Mullin’s office said.

“Unfortunately, despite our willingness to work with Turks and Caicos officials to get our constituents home, we were not able to find a path forward today,” Mullin said in the statement. “At this point, well-intentioned American citizens are facing a dozen years in prison all for unknowingly having one or two bullets in their luggage.”

“Should they receive a prison sentence, we will need to consider additional actions to safeguard American citizens,” Mullin said.

The other detained Americans have been identified as Sharitta Grier, 45; Michael Lee Evans, 72; Bryan Hagerich and Ryan Tyler Watson, 40.

Each is accused of bringing various amounts of ammunition to the chain of 40 islands in the tropical Atlantic Ocean southeast of the Bahamas.

In an interview with CNN’s Manu Raju Tuesday, Mullin said a sentencing hearing is scheduled for Hagerich on Friday.

The judge in the case is set to hand down Wenrich’s sentence on May 28, Brooks said.

According to Brooks, an expedited application was submitted on behalf of Watson, who will also have a hearing on May 28.

Bringing firearms or ammunition, including stray bullets, into Turks and Caicos without prior permission from police is “strictly forbidden,” according to a statement from its government.

People who violate the law face a minimum of 12 years in prison, the US Embassy in the Bahamas said in an April advisory. Judges can lower the minimum sentence and adjust fines when there are “exceptional circumstances,” the Turks and Caicos attorney general said in a news release earlier this month.

CNN’s Manu Raju, Fabiana Chaparro, Amanda Musa and Michael Rios contributed to this report.

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