The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal on Tuesday reduced the sentence of a Georgia teen who pleaded guilty to flouting coronavirus quarantine rules from four months in prison to two months, her attorneys said.
Skylar Mack’s family has called for her release, saying the sentencing, the most severe related to the pandemic so far implemented in the British overseas territory, is unduly harsh punishment for the 18-year-old student.
“We’re not asking for her to get an exception,” Jeanne Mack, Skylar’s grandmother, told NBC on Monday. “We’re asking for her to not be the exception.”
Her attorneys cheered the court’s Tuesday decision as bittersweet, saying they had hoped for an earlier release.
“Whilst it was our hope that Skylar would be able to return home to resume her studies in January, we accept the decision of the Court and look forward to receiving its written reasons in due course,” Samson Law Associates, the law firm representing her, said in a statement.
Mack, a pre-med student at Mercer University, landed in the Cayman Islands on Nov. 27. On arrival, she received a coronavirus test and was instructed to quarantine for 14 days, her attorney Jonathon Hughes said. She was also fitted with an electronic tracking bracelet to monitor her movements during the isolation period.
Two days into the quarantine, Mack, after receiving news that her test was negative, removed the bracelet and slipped out of isolation to watch her boyfriend, Vanjae Ramgeet, compete in a Jet Ski competition at Grand Cayman’s South Sound.
Event organizers reported her to authorities, who transported her to a mandatory quarantine facility.
Authorities said that Mack was not wearing a mask or social distancing when they arrived and that she had been interacting with the public for seven hours, according to the Cayman Compass.
Mack was charged Dec. 4 with breaking coronavirus-control regulations, and Ramgeet was charged with aiding and abetting her.
The two were initially sentenced to 40 hours of community service and fined more than $2,000, but the government appealed for a harsher penalty and won. On Dec. 15, Mack and Ramgeet were taken into custody to serve four months in prison.
Judge Roger Chapple, in delivering his decision, said, “The gravity of the breach was such that the only appropriate sentence would have been one of immediate imprisonment.”
Mack’s family says she has learned her lesson. “She just wants to come home,” her grandmother said. “She knows she made a mistake. She owns up to that. But she’s pretty hysterical right now.”
Jeanne Mack told the Associated Press that she had written to the White House about the matter and received a response that the case was being looked into.
The Cayman Islands, with a population of about 64,000, has confirmed 316 cases of the coronavirus and two deaths. The territory, known for its aquamarine waters and soft, sandy beaches, reopened its borders in October to tourists but required them to adhere to a strict set of government regulations to stem the spread of the virus, including tests, quarantines and electronic monitoring bracelets.
Mack and Ramgeet are the first to receive a sentence under the government’s strict covid-19 restrictions. Under the regulations, rule-breakers can be fined up to $10,000 and sentenced to up to two years in prison.
Days after Mack’s sentencing, Martyn Roper, governor of the Cayman Islands, posted a video calling on travelers to adhere to the rules. “All of us have to show individual and collective responsibility if we’re going to effectively deal with this pandemic,” he said. “I particularly appeal to all travelers coming back to the islands – please comply fully with the guidance and the advice that you’re getting.”