Drug use led to robbery, court concludes; convicted man was former high school award winner
Arron Marquiss McLaughlin was sentenced this week to four years’ imprisonment for robbing the CashWiz store in Bodden Town in May 2012, and a further six months for assault.
Justice Charles Quin said there was evidence to suggest that McLaughlin committed the offense to pay drug debts.
McLaughlin, now 22, pleaded guilty in September to robbing staff at the pawn shop, carrying an imitation firearm with intent to commit the robbery, and common assault on a police officer who pursued him after the robbery.
On Tuesday, Justice Quin referred to a social inquiry report and a summary of the case presented by Crown counsel Candia James and mitigation by defense attorney Clyde Allen.
The judge noted that McLaughlin had received the Thomas Russell Award for the highest achieving male at the former George Hicks High School and had represented Cayman in track and field. He had also received a scholarship to the University College of the Cayman Islands and worked as a teacher’s aide in primary schools, where his supervisors were pleased with the quality of his work.
The social inquiry indicated that McLaughlin had started using cocaine shortly before the robbery. A family member also reported that McLaughlin had started using ganja six or seven months before the robbery.
“In my view, there is a clear indication that [McLaughlin’s] use of ganja and cocaine, and associating with people supplying illegal drugs, has led him into criminal activity,” Justice Quin said. “I also take note of the fact that the defendant had been shot at just before this offense, and there is evidence to suggest that he committed the offense in order to honor his debt to persons who were pursuing him for payment for drugs supplied to him.”
The judge called it “nothing short of tragic” that such a talented young man had fallen victim to the influence of criminal associates and drug use, with the result that he had committed such serious criminal offenses.
On May 30, 2012, McLaughlin entered the CashWiz shop wearing black clothes and a black mask with “skull” printed on it; he carried a black bag and what appeared to be a handgun. He ordered one person to lie on the floor and told the manager to open the safe. He then demanded gold and was given a ring; he demanded a cellphone and she handed one over. He then left the premises, leaving the cellphone behind.
The manager phoned police, who arrived within a few minutes. They saw a man walking along carrying a black bag and sweating profusely. When they spoke to him, he ran. Constable Manley Berry shouted at him to stop, and McLaughlin pulled what appeared to be a long-barrelled gun on the officer, saying “I will shoot you! I will shoot you!” As the man turned and ran, the sound of the police helicopter was heard and the man threw the gun into nearby bush. Police Constable Khalesiah Barboram jumped on the man and wrestled him to the ground.
Justice Quin said he wanted to publicly record the community’s appreciation for the bravery of the officers who “acted quickly and with considerable courage…”
The bag was retrieved and found to contain black jeans, a black mask, black glove, a gold ring and pendant, and CI$580 in cash.
The gun was also retrieved and identified as an Orion flare gun modified to accept a 12-gauge shotgun shell.
Ms James said DNA on the gun matched McLaughlin’s DNA to the extent that the chance of another person matching it would be one in 400 trillion.
She and Mr. Allen agreed that there was some delay in entering guilty pleas because experts were determining whether the firearm met the description within the meaning of the law – that is, a lethal-barrelled weapon.
Mr. Allen said his client believed the firearm was an imitation. He accepted that threats were made to the police officer, but added, “Threats are what the victim perceives, not what you intend.”
He urged the court to say that McLaughlin should get the benefit of an early plea, while Ms James suggested that the evidence was so overwhelming McLaughlin might not have had a choice other than to plead guilty.
Justice Quin said the firearm looked real and must have caused considerable fear and terror. Given the aggravating features of the robbery, he said the starting point for sentencing had to be five years. With discount for the guilty plea, the sentence was set at four years.
For possession of the imitation firearm to commit the offense, he imposed three years to be served concurrently. For assaulting the police officer by threatening him with a realistic-looking weapon, the sentence was six months, to be served consecutively.