by Max Brantley
--Photo by David Skinner of the Royal Gazette
A Bermuda jury today returned a speedy verdict of acquittal for Little Rock lawyer Gary Barket, who was arrested for guns found in checked luggage when he attempted to leave the country after a business trip. He said he didn't know the guns were in his bags and the jury apparently accepted that defense. Barket is shown above in a photo after the verdict with his wife, Terry.
U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder appeared as a character witness for Barket today. He joined a list of other notable Arkansans who testified to Barket's good reputation.
UPDATE: On the jump is a report from a reporter for Bermuda's Royal Gazette on today's proceedings, the third day of the trial, including comments from the Barket family.
By Elizabeth Roberts
A US lawyer has spoken of his gratitude to the "wonderful, friendly and smart" people of Bermuda after being cleared of illegally importing firearms. Gary Barket, 61, from Little Rock, Arkansas, faced a mandatory jail sentence of ten years if convicted over the weapons in his suitcase. However, a jury unanimously acquitted him Wednesday after accepting that he forgot the guns were hidden in the case, and brought them to Bermuda purely by accident in January.
In an unusual legal move, they delivered their verdict before Chief Justice Richard Ground even summed up the case, having taken his advice that they could acquit Mr. Barket straightaway as long as they all agreed. The news was greeted with cries of joy from the defendant's family and friends in the public gallery at Supreme Court, with a weeping Mr. Barket telling The Royal Gazette: "I'm very gratified and humbled that reason and justice prevailed in this case. "This is consistent with what I've learned about the good people of Bermuda in the five months that I've been here - that the people of Bermuda are wonderful, they're friendly, they're smart, and this verdict shows that they 're reasonable people and understanding."
His equally emotional wife Terry Barket said: "I'm elated, it's wonderful. This has been very painful." She had told the jury how she'd asked her husband to hide the guns away from cleaners at their home last October, then forgot all about them. This mistake, she said after the case, "devastated" her and her family. She recalled: "I was very nervous when I was waiting to testify but once I got on the stand I have a great faith, and the Lord was with me." Mr. Barket has spent the last five months in Bermuda awaiting trial, as his bail conditions did not permit him to travel.
His son, Jonathan Barket, 26, yesterday thanked local residents for their support during that period. "This has been a lot of strain. I've been over here several times and the people of Bermuda have really helped him in ways that I can't even express," he said. Mr. Barket's three-day trial heard how the revolver, semi-automatic pistol and four bullets were detected by an X-ray machine at L.F Wade International Airport in Bermuda as he prepared to fly home from a three day business trip. The defendant explained that the weapons belonged to his wife's late father, war veteran Walter Menkee Jr. Mrs. Barket asked him last October to hide them somewhere safe after she stumbled across the family heirlooms while clearing out a closet. Mr. Barket put them in an old garment bag hanging in another closet, and told the jury he and his wife then forgot all about them.
He carried the unloaded weapons in the garment bag in the hold luggage of planes caught to Bermuda from Little Rock via Newark in New Jersey on January 23 without remembering they were there. However, he was stopped by airport security officials after they spotted them on an X-ray machine as he left the Island on January 25. Mr. Barket later told the Police: "They unzipped the bag and opened it and I almost fainted. I said 'my God, those are my father-in-law's guns'."
During his evidence, he told the court that, despite it being legal to carry unloaded guns in hold luggage in the United States, he would never have brought the weapons to Bermuda knowingly. "I mean, I practiced law for 36 years. I have a pristine record as a lawyer and a citizen. I would've never done anything stupid like this, or even thought about doing it," he protested.
A series of top US officials flew to Bermuda to testify to Mr. Barket's unblemished good character, including Mayor of Little Rock Mark Stobler and Congressman Vic Snyder. The eight women and four men of the jury heard from defence lawyer Saul Froomkin QC in his closing speech that the crucial issue was whether Mr. Barket really did forget the guns were in his bag. If they believed he had forgotten, or had doubt about this, then they had to clear him said Mr. Froomkin. In his closing speech, Principal Crown counsel Michael McColm conceded: "The prosecution's got to satisfy you that he was knowingly in possession. He says he was not. I can't point to anything of substance which is inconsistent with that."
After the closing speeches, Chief Justice Richard Ground sent the jury out for their 11 a.m coffee break with the advice that they could clear Mr. Barket without hearing his summing up - as long as they all agreed. They did so just 15 minutes later, with the Chief Justice then telling Mr. Barket: "At this point, you are a free man."
EARLY VERSION OF TODAY'S STORY
By Elizabeth Roberts
A US lawyer was cleared of firearms importation by the unanimous verdict of a jury this morning.
Gary Barket, from Little Rock, Arkansas, greeted the news by saying: "I'm very gratified and humbled that reason and justice prevailed."
He had faced 10 years behind bars if he had been convicted over the incident at Bermuda Airport on Jan.25.
A revolver, a pistol and four bullets were found in a garment bag that he brought into Bermuda from the States three days before - when it was X-rayed at the Airport before he flew home.
Mr. Barket, 61, was arrested and has been in Bermuda on bail for the last six months awaiting trial. He claimed, during emotional testimony yesterday, that it was all a terrible mistake.
Both he and his wife Terry told the jury that he had hidden the guns - which belonged to her late father - in the garment bag for safekeeping some three months before. They then completely forgot about them.
Mr. Barket told the court the first time he remembered they were in the bag was when the airport X-ray machine picked them up, and he almost fainted with shock.
This morning, lawyers told the jury that the key question was whether the defendant knew the guns were in the bag at the time they were brought into Bermuda. If they were not sure that he knew, said defence lawyer Saul Froomkin Qc, then they must clear him.
In an unusual move, Chief Justice Richard Ground told the eight women and four men of the jury that they could deliver a verdict before they even heard him "sum up" the case, as long as it was unanimous.
They took up his offer - clearing Mr. Barket just after 11.15 a.m. to whoops and tears of joy from his family in the courtroom.