A Charleston sailor who is going on trial in Bermuda this week for allegedly smuggling millions of dollars worth of marijuana says he is trying to make sense of the island's foreign judicial system.
Andrew "Steve" Blatchley said he was subjected to a questionable search, held without arraignment and not given access to a lawyer when he was arrested on board his boat last fall far from shore.
"In America, any one of these would get the case thrown out," Blatchley said in a letter from Bermuda's Westgate Prison. "Not Here. Here, the end justifies the means."
Blatchley, 59, once a fixture on the Charleston sailing scene, and a Canadian co-defendant are scheduled to go on trial Thursday in Bermuda's Supreme Court. Barring a last minute plea or delay, the trial is expected to take about three weeks.
If convicted, Blatchley, a British native who also stands charged with money laundering, faces a potential sentence of life in prison. Co-defendant Peter Sagos of Ottawa, Canada, will be tried alongside him on the same charges.
Case prosecutor Cindy Clarke said she expects to call as many as 35 witnesses, but during a telephone interview from the government capitol in Hamilton last week, she declined to discuss any of the case evidence, citing the island's strict rules on disclosure.
Blatchley's wife Sandi, who still lives in the Charleston area, does not plan to attend the trial. But she is optimistic he will be acquitted, saying her husband's arrest is an error. The two met in the 1990s, married and built a life surrounded by time and freedom at sea.
The case broke last fall when Steve Blatchley and two passengers on his 36-foot sailboat "Bomba Shack" were leaving the island after making repairs, restocking the boat and filling their bank account for the sailing days ahead.
On Oct. 3, 2009, the trio was about 14 miles off Bermuda on a course toward Jamaica when police boats ordered them to halt.
"They said they wanted to search the boat for drugs," Blatchley said in his note. "I found this peculiar as I was leaving!"
The group was taken back to Bermuda where a search was conducted and all three on board were questioned. Three months later, Blatchley's passengers -- friend Jeannie Harden and Canadian Edide Plourde, who had chartered Blatchley's boat for the trip -- were freed from custody. Plourde died within days of returning to his native Canada.
Blatchley and Sagos, who was arrested separately, were held on charges of trying to smuggle a quantity of marijuana valued at up to $30 million. Family and friends say the charges don't match the man.
In his note from prison, Steve Blatchley said he can't understand how the case against him came about.
"I do not believe the police have jurisdiction beyond the 3-mile limit," he wrote. "The act of taking over my vessel with armed force was one of piracy. Their excuses of looking for drugs was obviously false."
It is widely accepted that the Bermuda legal system is far different than that of the United States. The island's constitution applies only to Bermudians, and there is no freedom of information law giving the media the right to review government or court documents. Even reporting on cases much beyond the basic arrest information is prevented by law, making public access to evidence difficult.
The U.S. State Department warns that breaking the law in Bermuda can be more severe than in the U.S., especially for drugs.
Sandi Blatchley said she has faith that the court will see the charges are groundless and is optimistic that her husband will be released and sent back to Charleston soon.
"He says he's coming home," she said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551, or firstname.lastname@example.org.