Judge salutes Charles Ebanks and Edward Azan, civilians who intervened
Jordon Bryson Powell, 18, and Jonathan Samuel Welcome, 17, were each sentenced on Monday to six years imprisonment after pleading guilty to charges arising from two attempted robberies at the Grand Harbour shopping complex on Monday afternoon, 2 May.
In passing sentence, Justice Richard Williams said, “This case is another clear illustration as to how a number of young men in our community are, in ever increasing numbers, turning to violent, armed crimes and involving themselves in gratuitous and meaningless acts of threatening violence with imitation firearms or weapons.”
There is strong public interest in deterring crimes of this sort, he said, because people should be able to go about their daily business and shop or work without having to look over their shoulders just in case they might be robbed. “Those who serve the public by operating a retail business or those who work therein should not be expected to have to accept this type of violation of their livelihoods.”
It was clear that such business places are susceptible to attack and might wrongly be viewed as easy targets for people who wished to enrich themselves at other people’s expense, Justice Williams continued. “This means that, as far as is possible, the courts must provide such protection as they can for those who seek to frequent or work in shops.” The way to provide protection is to make it clear to offenders that a severe sentence will be imposed “to persuade other like-minded robbers that it is not worth the risk.”
Powell and Welcome were originally charged with attempted murder as well as the attempted robbery of Blackbeard’s Liquor Store and the attempted robbery of Charles Ebanks who, along with Edward Azan, confronted the masked teens after they left the store.
The charge of attempted murder was not proceeded with after an expert examined the shotgun carried by Welcome and determined it was inoperable. Instead, they were charged with possession of an imitation firearm with intent to commit an offence and possession of a prohibited weapon (pepper spray). Powell was further charged with assault causing actual bodily harm to Mr. Ebanks.
Crown Counsel Tricia Hutchinson set out details of the offences, explaining that the teens had their faces covered as they approached the liquor store. The clerk saw them approach carrying something that resembled a shotgun. There were no customers in the store at the time, which was just after 3pm, and she ran into a room at the back of the store, where she hid and rang an alarm. She heard the door tried and a demand for money, but she did not answer. A male employee entered the store, saw the men and heard them ask for money. He went back outside and alerted his supervisor. He saw two males in the parking area (Messrs Ebanks and Azan) and alerted them also.
The two civilians ran back to their vehicle and got a knife and a machete they use for fishing. They confronted the two individuals who were exiting the store. “Welcome pointed what appeared to be a firearm in Mr. Ebanks’ face and made a demand for money. When this was not met, he pulled the trigger and a click was heard,” Ms Hutchinson related.
Apparently it was when Welcome demanded money that Mr. Ebanks made his previously-reported reply: “Not today, BoBo.” He dropped the knife he had in his hand and Welcome was distracted by this, enabling Mr. Ebanks to wrestle the gun away from him. Powell was seen approaching with pepper spray and then Mr. Azan and a number of other people joined in.
Welcome and Powell ran off, but were chased by Mr. Ebanks, Mr. Azan and others. Mr. Azan caught and held on to Welcome. Mr. Ebanks went after Powell, who used pepper spray on him, but Mr. Ebanks still had the weapon he had taken from Welcome and he used it to subdue Powell. Both would-be robbers were made to lie on the ground until police arrived.
Powell told police he was walking to his grandmother’s house when he was approached by a man named Ebanks who was sitting in a parked car. Ebanks pointed a gun at him and told him to get in the car. Ebanks said he knew where Powell’s girlfriend worked and someone was there right now. Welcome was in the car wearing a police-issue hat. Powell was given clothes to put on and a can of pepper spray and Welcome was given a sawed-off rifle. Ebanks told them to rob Blackbeard’s and took them there, saying he would wait for them.
However, Welcome’s account to a social worker was that he went to Powell’s house and it was there he was asked to take part in a robbery. He said they spoke about it for a few hours and then were driven to Grand Harbour.
Defence Attorney Ben Tonner said Powell accepted that he could not offer a defence of duress. He and Attorney John Furniss, who spoke for Welcome, asked the judge to consider the offenders’ guilty pleas and their ages, along with backgrounds as detailed in social inquiry reports.
In passing sentence, the judge said he had to “strongly commend Mr. Ebanks and Mr. Azan for their utter bravery, clearly putting their safety at real risk in order to protect law-abiding members of the community. They, like the store staff, were not to know that the firearm was non-functioning. The public should rightly hold them in high regard for their selfless service to the community.”
Justice Williams added a caution: “That said, it wold be wrong for me to openly encourage other members of the civilian community to place themselves in potential harm in this way when faced with such obvious danger.
“One might rightly think that if these two gentlemen could step forward in this way for their community, then the very least that one should expect from others in the community who have witnessed, or who have information concerning those who commit, such serious crimes, that they should assist the police by sharing that information with them.”
The judge also commented on the value of guilty pleas. In this particular case, he said the aggravating features included the use of the imitation firearm, the pre-planning,the donning of disguises and the fact that the store was open for business at the time. If the matter had gone to trial and the two had been found guilty, the sentence would have been nine years, whether the plan to rob had succeeded or not.
Credit must be given for the early guilty pleas, he said, even though the teens had been caught near the scene and there was really no other sensible course for them to take. “However, those in your circumstances who are bold enough to recognise their guilt should be encouraged to thereby save court time and expense as well as prevent the need for witnesses, and in particular victims, to have to be put through the possible ordeal of giving evidence.”
Justice Williams said he considered the two defendants equally culpable and he explained the individual sentences for each offence. On the principle of totality, however, he made all sentences run concurrently, for the six year total.