Man found not guilty of handling stolen Rolex

Aaron Bernardo tells jury he bought what he thought was a fake Rolex for $500

A Grand Court jury found Aaron John Bernardo not guilty of handling stolen goods – a Rolex Oyster watch valued at $10,878, which was among 45 watches taken during the robbery of Kirk Freeport at The Strand on Jan. 7.

Crown Counsel Candia James’s case was based largely on two points: Mr. Bernardo had the watch in his possession, and he had lied to police about when he first knew about the robbery.

The defendant gave evidence and explained that he bought the watch after being told it was a replica. He agreed that he lied to police when he said he did not know about the robbery until the day after it happened; he said he was frightened because he was initially charged with the robbery and told he was looking at 25 years.

Justice Richard Williams instructed jurors that the Crown had to prove that Mr. Bernardo knew or believed the watch was stolen. Further, the question was not what he ought to have believed and not what a reasonable person would have believed. He suggested that jurors concentrate on the credibility of Mr. Bernardo’s explanation about how he got the watch.

The judge also warned that people tell lies for all sorts of reasons. “A lie in itself is not evidence of guilt,” he pointed out.

Ms James told jurors there was an armed robbery at the store around 6:40 p.m. on Jan. 7. Total value of the watches taken – 44 Rolexes and one Breitling – exceeded a half-million dollars.

She said Bernardo was arrested the next day and a Rolex from the robbery was found at his residence. His phone showed messages about the robbery shortly after it occurred.

In his interview with police, which was read into evidence, Mr. Bernardo said he was not involved in the robbery, he did not know the difference between a real and fake Rolex, and the man from whom he bought it “knows I am a guy with money.”

Mr. Bernardo, 29, said he owned nine or 10 watches, including one valued at $1,300. Those watches and other jewelry were found by police in a jewelry box along with the Rolex.

On the evening of the robbery, Mr. Bernardo said he was home until a little after 7 p.m. and went out to dinner with another man.

Mr. Bernardo said he bought the watch on the night of Jan. 7 outside Obar, out in the open, with other people around. He was told the watch was a Rolex, and when he asked if it was genuine, with papers, he was told it was a replica. It was not in a box and did not have a price tag or marketing tag on it. He thought it looked good and decided to buy it, so he went home and got the money.

Mr. Bernardo said he did not think back to the robbery when the man offered him the watch. One reason was that it was presented as a replica, and he had been offered a replica on a previous occasion. Another reason was that the broadcasts he had seen referred to jewelry, but not watches specifically. He said he was tipsy and bought the watch on impulse.

Mr. Bernardo was arrested the night of Jan. 8. Asked why he had denied knowing about the robbery shortly after it occurred, he said he was being charged with the robbery. “…They said I was looking at 25 years. My natural defense was, ‘Oh boy, I don’t know anything about this.’” He said he was in custody until March 13, when he was granted bail with an electronic tag. On Aug. 16, charges of robbery and possession of a firearm were dismissed. That was when the charge of handling stolen goods was laid.

At the close of Mr. Bernardo’s evidence, his attorney asked how the incident looked to him now. “It’s pretty much ruined my life,” he replied.