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‘Cocaine’ Cassie gets six years

Cassie Sainsbury in a previous Bogota court appearance.
Cassie Sainsbury in a previous Bogota court appearance.

CASSANDRA Sainsbury's lawyers have reached a plea-deal with prosecutors which could dramatically reduce her time behind bars.

The deal would see Sainsbury serve a maximum 72 months or six years jail.

A Colombian judge is now considering the deal, but in a closed court session yesterday he gave it his tacit approval as being within the confines of the law.

The plea deal is similar to the first that was struck between Sainsbury's lawyer, Orlando Herran, and prosecutors, but which was scuppered when she claimed she had been forced to carry the drugs and was therefore not accepting responsibility for the smuggling.

It was yesterday presented in a closed session of the Bogota Special Circuit Court, which deals primarily with drugs case.

A source within the courtroom said the court had been closed to media because Sainsbury had agreed to divulge details of the drug syndicate she said had ensnared her.

However, in the end she was not required to give any of this evidence, the source said.

The appeal was struck on the grounds of Sainsbury's "marginality" or poverty, as was the first deal she struck.

With good behaviour and working or taking courses within the jail, Sainsbury could be released within three and a half years, the court source said.

The judge adjourned the hearing until November 1, but had agreed in principle to the deal.

Cassie Sainsbury is led out of a police vehicle in an underground carpark beneath a Bogota court before being escorted to her hearing today. Picture:
Cassie Sainsbury is led out of a police vehicle in an underground carpark beneath a Bogota court before being escorted to her hearing today. Picture:

The surprise outcome came during a what was expected to be a pre-trial hearing over drug smuggling charges, where she was to be presented with the evidence prosecutors have gathered against her.

But the newly appointed judge hearing Cassie Sainsbury's trial closed the court hearing to media.

Australian TV crews and News Corp Australia were told they could not observe the hearing. Such a move is unusual in all but the most controversial and high-profile cases in Colombia

The judge, identified only as a Sixth Specialised Judge at this stage, indicated to her defence lawyers earlier this month he wasn't pleased with the media attention her case has drawn.

But Sainsbury's lawyer, Orlando Herran, requested the hearing be closed "for the safety of the accused".

Her mother had arrived at the court earlier to observe the proceedings.

Cassie's mother and her boyfriend arriving at court in Bogota today. Picture: Guillermo Legaria
Cassie's mother and her boyfriend arriving at court in Bogota today. Picture: Guillermo Legaria

The 20-year-old South Australian woman was arrested for trying to smuggle 5.8kg of cocaine out of Bogota airport in her suitcase. Ms Sainsbury had faced 20 years in jail for concealing the illicit drugs inside 18 headphone cases.

Ms Sainsbury has previously told the judge she desperately needed $10,000. She contacted a man named 'Nathan' through a website in Hong Kong, believing she was being asked to carry sensitive documents.

Money was transferred through a Western Union account in Bogota.

Sainsbury has repeated her claim she was forced to carry drugs, and threatened at gunpoint.

She had "fallen victim to an international drug trafficking syndicate" that "threatened her life and the life of her family if she did not comply with their demands", according to documents previously lodged by her Australian lawyers.

Cassie Sainsbury is led into court for an earlier plea-bargain hearing.
Cassie Sainsbury is led into court for an earlier plea-bargain hearing.

Following today's hearing, a date will be set for a "preparatory hearing". This must happen anytime between 90-120 days after the accusation hearing. If it doesn't occur within this time frame, the accused can possibly be freed under Colombian law. There is no serious indication this will occur in Sainsbury's case.

At this hearing, the judge reviews evidence from both parties and determines which is valid to be used and rejects anything that is absurd.

The final hearing is the trial proper and it can take weeks. This will happen 90-120 days after the preparatory hearing.

Sainsbury will be present everyday of the trial, as well as a translator. At the trial, the judge looks through the evidence, listens to witnesses.

At the end of the trial, the judge decides whether there will be a conviction or not.

The judge has a choice of issuing a sentence on the spot or setting a separate sentence date.

Topics:  cassie sainsbury cocaine colombia editors picks



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