Shopkeepers and premises must be protected, judge says
Devon Emmanuel Wright Jr. was sentenced to four years imprisonment after being found guilty of being in a joint venture to gain entrance to a grocery store by ramming it with a truck and then steal from the premises.
Wright, 20, elected trial by judge alone and Justice Charles Quin heard evidence during two days earlier this month. He delivered his judgment last week and passed sentence on Monday.
Justice Quin summarised the events of Sunday, 18 July, 2010, at Solomon’s Grocery Store on Mary Street. Around 4.15am the front entrance door was rammed by a Ford truck, causing the door and surrounding walls to break away. A burglary then took place and a cash register was stolen. Damage to the structure was $23,000.
The case presented by Crown Counsel Marilyn Brandt was that Wright was part of a joint enterprise with another man identified as Harryton or Harry, who is now deceased.
Witnesses included a man who lived near the shop and a security guard on North Church Street, who saw and/or heard the truck crash into the building. Both called 911.
Police Constable Nakea Mendez said he received a radio transmission from 911 while on patrol in George Town. He drove directly to Solomon’s Grocery, saw the truck, and two men running from the scene. He drove after them and when they ran in different direction, PC Mendez pursued on foot the man who had an object in his hand while his partner ran after the man who did not appear to be carrying anything. The chase lasted about 10 minutes before PC Mendez caught his man in a dead end and recognised him as Wright. Meanwhile, the other officer had lost sight of the man he was chasing.
When Wright was captured he no longer had the object, but another officer searched the area the next morning and found the cash register.
Wright chose to give evidence, telling the court he was home when Harry came and picked him up after borrowing a truck. They cruised around town and suddenly Harry told him to brace himself, then turned and crashed into the shop. Wright said he never knew Harry was going to crash into the store or take the cash register.
Wright maintained he did not want to be involved in what Harry did. He said he waited at the scene for 15 minutes so he could tell police what happened, but they took too long so he took off. He said he went to a nearby area for a draw of weed. He saw police coming and they started to chase him.
Defence attorney John Furniss said neither Wright’s fingerprints nor his DNA were found on the register. He said Wright never had control of the vehicle, which the owner confirmed had been removed from his premises without permission.
In reaching his verdict of guilty, Justice Quin referred to the evidence of the two civilians, both of whom saw the occupants of the truck with clothing over their heads to conceal their identity. In addition, the neighbour’s evidence was that both men entered the shop and PC Mendez’ account was of seeing both men running away from the rear of the building. The judge said Wright’s evidence of waiting 15 minutes was clearly untrue.
In the sentencing hearing, Mr. Furniss emphasised the fact this was a commercial building, not a private dwelling, and no person was put at serious risk. He acknowledged the considerable damage to property and Wright’s record of previous convictions for burglary.
Justice Quin said he could not pass sentence without reminding himself the target was a small family grocery shop that stayed open seven days a week to serve the local community. He noted the Court of Appeal’s recent reference to a “sense of violation and insecurity” in a domestic burglary and he indicated a concern for shopkeepers and the general public as well.
As far as the judge knew, this was the first local case of what is known in the UK as “ram raiding” – not just breaking and entering a building, but actually breaking down the building itself and then stealing its contents.
“Shopkeepers and their premises must be protected and so must the general public,” Justice Quin said. “This sort of offence in the very early hours of the morning, while most residents are still asleep, cannot be condoned. The court must impose a sentence which will serve as a punishment to the offender and a deterrent to others.”
He said he was considering Wright’s relatively young age in passing the four-year sentence for both the damage and the burglary, making them run concurrently.