From the Courts
February 13, 2009
Western Union robbers sentenced

Three of the four accused who pleaded guilty to robbing Western Union in Bequia last year were sentenced on Tuesday at the High Court.{{more}}

Grenadian John Raymond, 28, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Vincentian Aaron Francois, 19, was given a five-year custodial sentence for his involvement in the robbery, which occurred on January 15, 2008. Justice Gertel Thom gave the lone female of the trio – 18-year-old Sabrina Phillips, a three-year suspended sentence.

The three were responsible for stealing EC$12,300 in cash, US$839 in cash and cheques amounting to EC$660, the property of Western Union Money Transfer. The other defendant, Trinidad-born Orlando Spencer absconded the jurisdiction while on bail and is now in the custody of Grenadian law officials.

During Monday’s proceedings, it was revealed that Joan Davis arrived at her workplace that morning when accused Orlando Spencer and a then pregnant Sabrina Phillips entered the building. They both stayed there for a short while before exiting without doing any business. Moments later, two men, identified as Raymond and Francois, stormed into the business place, one with a gun, the other equipped with a knife. Raymond is said to have raised the gun at Davis and told her to keep quiet and not to make any noise.

Francois, on the other hand, armed with a knife, jumped over the counter and held Davis by her throat. He told her that all they wanted was the money and that she wouldn’t get hurt. Davis showed the men where the money was, and they packed it into a black bag. Francois then carried Davis in the rear of the building, where he tied her hands and feet with plastic handcuffs. Her co-workers later discovered Davis unharmed. A search was then conducted at the house which Phillips and Spencer occupied at the time and found plastic handcuffs and a grey and black knapsack.

Representing both Phillips and Francois in the matter, attorney Ronald Marks then asked that relatives of both accused take the witness stand to give accounts about their characters. Nella Francois, mother of Aaron, told the court that her son was always a good child and never gave any trouble. She added that Aaron went back and forth to Grenada trafficking food items just after Hurricane Ivan hit that country.

Francois stated that Aaron married a Grenadian and had two kids with her. Crying aloud, Francois said it was difficult to get by because Aaron was the sole breadwinner for the home. “Your ladyship, it real difficult on me. His wife and her four kids live with me and she ain’t working and Aaron’s father paralyzed, so is me alone. Is ah friend does have to help me get by,” sobbed Francois. She said she warned Aaron about Spencer, telling him that he was bad company to be around.

In relation to Sabrina Phillips, who is now pregnant again, Theresa Spencer, aunt of Orlando, told the court Phillips did not have any relatives and that she was only here through her boyfriend, Orlando Spencer. She assured that provisions had already been made for Phillips’ eight month-old child to be taken to Trinidad to be taken care of in event that Phillips had to go to jail.

In a plea of mitigation for Francois, Marks noted that Spencer was the mastermind behind the robbery and encouraged Francois in his unlawful act. Marks conceded that Francois should have had more sense than to follow Spencer. “He is a respectful person, and his demeanour shows that he is a quiet person,” said Marks. The vibrant attorney stated that it was clear from the evidence that all Francois wanted was the money. Marks said one of the main factors that affected both of his clients were poverty and deprivation. “He has made a bad choice and has accepted the fact that he has done something wrong,” Marks added.

Mitigating on Philips’ behalf, Marks said that Phillip was involved in an abusive relationship with Spencer since the age of 16. He said Spencer took advantage of her submissive nature and had her in a state… completely dominating her. He even threatened to take her life on several occasions if she left him. Marks said that the prosecution evidence showed that Phillips had minimal involvement in the matter. He further stated that Phillips had no active part in the robbery and that she was only sent on motor vessel “Bequia Express” to collect the bag after the robbery had taken place.

“It is clear from the facts that she was used and that she was afraid of Spencer,” Marks added.

Speaking on his own behalf, Raymond said that he was misled by Spencer since he was told the week before the incident that he was coming here to plant weed. Raymond made it clear to the court that Phillips and Francois weren’t aware of the robbery. “I don’t believe in playing games and wasting the court’s time and I aplogise for my actions,” stated Raymond.

Handing down her sentence, Justice Thom said that it was evident that Phillips was under the influence of Spencer, but that she was still aware of the plan. As for Francois, the judge took into the account that he was the main breadwinner and that he has two children. Thom also alluded to the fact that robbery is a serious offence and must be punishable by law. (KW)