American tourist avoids jail time in Turks and Caicos ammunition case

Ryan Watson was fined $2,000 for the charge of possession of ammunition. The judge ruled that there are exceptional circumstances in his case that kept her from imposing a 12-year prison sentence, which until recently was mandatory under island law

NBC Universal, Inc.

American Ryan Watson is on a plane headed home to Oklahoma tonight after he was detained for more than two months in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Watson, a father of two who was charged with bringing ammunition to the islands, avoided jail time at his sentencing Friday morning.



Watch NBC10 Boston news for free, 24/7, wherever you are.


Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.

Watson was fined $2,000 and the judge ruled that there are exceptional circumstances in his case that kept her from imposing a 12-year prison sentence.

“Feeling great, “ said Watson as he emerged from the courthouse with his wife Valerie.  “So happy that the judge took a holistic approach.  It was nerve-racking still, you know, knowing the prosecution was still pursuing a 12-year sentence and they didn’t just think that there was exceptional circumstances, but I’m still extremely blessed that the judge took a holistic approach.  And you know, I’m gonna pay this fine and go home and see those kids.”

The judge said she took into account 14 character references she received on Watson’s behalf, including letters from Oklahoma’s governor and senators.

“The biggest feeling of relief,” said Valerie Watson. “That moment I’ve been waiting for for a really long time, it felt really really good.”

Watson was arrested in April after a trip to Turks and Caicos to celebrate his 40th birthday with friends.  Four rounds of deer hunting ammunition were found in his luggage.

Americans Bryan Hagerich and Tyler Wenrich were also charged with possession of ammunition and avoided jail time.  Two others, Sharitta Grier of Florida and Michael Evans of Texas have court dates next week.

An American woman faces a potential 12-year prison sentence after bullets were found in her luggage. She says TSA missed the bullets but confiscated her body lotion.

All of the tourists say they mistakenly brought the ammunition in their luggage.

The Turks and Caicos legislature just amended its strict firearms ordinance last week, removing the mandatory minimum 12-year sentence for those guilty of firearm offenses.

Under the amendment, courts now have the discretion in exceptional circumstances to impose either a custodial sentence, a fine or both, rather than mandating both imprisonment and a fine for all firearms offenses regardless of the circumstances.

“We've seen progress along the way with the amendment with the other cases that have gone before us,” said Ryan Watson.  “And you know, these cases are very nuanced, but they're all very similar, right?  This is all just terrible accidents, inadvertence and no harm, no intent, and no victim. So we just pray that you know, there just continues to be progress and resolution.”

Contact Us