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Virginian Awaits Sentencing After Pleading Guilty to Ammo Possession in Turks and Caicos

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A Virginia husband, father, EMT, and 911 operator has pleaded guilty to bringing ammunition to the Turks and Caicos Islands, and is now waiting to learn whether he’ll be sentenced to any prison time or allowed to leave the islands after paying a fine. 

Tyler Wenrich is one of five U.S. citizens who’ve been arrested and detained in the Turks and Caicos since February after accidentally bringing a few stray rounds of ammunition with them in their luggage. He and the others could face up to twelve years behind bars in the British protectorate, which has an outright ban on the possession of firearms and ammunition for both residents and visitors. 

“I have a lot of fear and anxiety. You know, the best outcome to this is that the judge will find leniency and compassion in this situation, and steer away from the 12-year sentence and be able to give a sentence that is less than that and a fine, hopefully,” Wenrich told WPVI before the hearing. 

None of these Americans have been sentenced yet.

Wenrich was taking a cruise back in April for a bachelor party trip when authorities in Turks and Caicos allegedly found two bullets in his backpack, WWBT reported.

Jeriann Wenrich, his wife, said this was all “a complete and honest accident.”

“It was more of like an emergency backpack in his car that he kept a lot of different things in and I know sometimes he would take it to go shooting with his friends,” she said. “We are normally always very, very careful about, especially having our son, about keeping things put away, keeping things in the gun safe.”

Every one of these incidents appears to be accidental, but the Turks and Caicos authorities still might jail Wenrich and the other defendants to set an example. 

In the case of Edmond’s Ryan Watson, who traveled there with his wife, the vacation was over and they were trying to leave. But at the airport, security found four rounds of hunting ammunition in his carry-on. The ammo was missed by the TSA a week earlier at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. “It was my mistake, it was very innocent,” Watson told CBS News last month after his wife was allowed to leave and return to Oklahoma. “And I just pray [for] compassion and consideration, ’cause there was zero criminal intent.” 

Several governors, including Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, sent a letter to the governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands asking for leniency, and a bipartisan congressional delegation visited with officials in the islands on Monday, but Oklahoma Sen. Markwayne Mullin told KWTV in Oklahoma City, “they were not willing to really move anywhere, and in fact it wasn’t a very cordial conversation.”

Congressman Brecheen (R-Okla. 2) says he honeymooned in Turks and Caicos 15 years ago but told officials during the meeting that he would not go back, under the current circumstances. “I said, ‘My message to my bride, to my wife is, we’re not coming back because I’m scared that a bullet sliding through the seam that I’ll never know about will get into a bag and I’m facing a 12-year minimum’,” Brecheen recounted. “I said, ‘With all due respect, the only way you’re going to change that narrative is you’re going to have to change the law.'”

Brecheen says he told island leaders, if they don’t change the law, they risk scaring off American tourists in general, who account for the vast majority of the country’s critically important tourism business. “We were straightforward, but we were diplomatic,” Brecheen said. “We just let them know, you are a sovereign entity, you have the right to make your decisions, but America has the right to respond…and we gotta use every two in our toolbox.”

For now, the delegation says it will do as asked and let the legal system play out. “They want us to wait and see what happens,” Mullin said. “One month isn’t okay with me.” In fact, Mullin said anything more than time served for any of the five would be “a problem.”

It looks like Wenrich may be the first of the five to learn what his sentence will be. A hearing has been set for Tuesday, May 28th, and hopefully the Virginia resident will be able to board a flight and finally head home soon after. 

The odds of that happening would certainly increase if the Biden administration would apply some pressure to the Turks and Caicos government, but despite Democrats like John Fetterman and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro publicly urging officials to show mercy to the defendants, neither Biden nor the State Department has followed suit. I doubt that will change between now and next Tuesday, but I’d love for the gun-banner-in-chief to prove me wrong. 

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