Foil foils monitor, but wearer found guilty of robbery

A man who had been wearing an electronic monitor on his ankle robbed a couple at knifepoint after he had placed silver foil over the device to disguise his location, a court heard.

The system of personal electronic monitoring devices was explained in detail during the trial of James Romano Whittaker, who was found guilty of robbing the couple at the waterfront in George Town in the early hours of Nov. 22, 2014. Justice Charles Quin handed down his decision on Tuesday after a judge-alone trial.

At the time of the robbery, Whittaker was wearing what is commonly referred to as an ankle monitor or electronic tag, which is supposed to show the wearer’s location at all times through Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking. Whittaker’s monitor did not show him to be in the area of the Charles Building, next to Burger King on North Church Street, when the robbery occurred.

In fact, his monitor did not show his location at all. The monitoring service was not picking up a GPS signal from his device between 12:51 a.m. and 1:44 a.m., so his location could not be known. It was within that time frame that the robbery occurred.

A witness from the monitoring service explained that silver foil blocks the GPS signal and makes the device non-operational. When a person is first fitted with the device, he or she signs an agreement to care for it properly, keep it charged and not interfere with its operation.

He also noted that the electronic monitor can determine the rate of the wearer’s movement and Whittaker was known to ride a bicycle.

He explained that when there is no GPS signal recorded by the monitoring service, a five-minute grace period is normally allowed. Officers would normally respond after 10 minutes of no signals being received

In this case, when officers went to Whittaker’s residence they found him taking foil off the monitoring device. He said it was the first time he had done that.

Initially, he denied being anywhere near the robbery scene, saying he had gone out to get drugs. Later he denied going out at all, saying he was home asleep and did not know why the monitoring device was not working.

Justice Quin said the case depended on the correctness of the identification of Whittaker by the victims of the robbery. Senior Crown counsel Tanya Lobban conducted the prosecution. Defense attorney Crister Brady argued that Whittaker had not been identified beyond reasonable doubt.

The couple had been sitting on the seawall behind the Charles Building. Reviewing the evidence, the judge found that there was sufficient lighting on the property, from Burger King next door and from a street light, so that the victims could see their assailant. He noted how long their observations had lasted and their distance from the robber.

When the robber put a knife to the man’s neck and demanded money, they were “eye to eye,” the male victim said. Because of the knife, the female victim said she never took her eyes off of the robber.

Both agreed that the robber wore a hoody, but said it fell away from his face when he was searching through the woman’s purse. Each was separately shown 12 photos and each picked out Whittaker. There was no ID parade, but in a group identification, Whittaker was picked out.

The defendant objected that the robbery victims never described their assailant as having scars on his nose. Justice Quin commented that when Whittaker was in the witness box giving evidence, “I could not see any scars on his nose.”

There was a discrepancy in evidence as to how long the incident had lasted, but the judge pointed out that when one is the victim of a violent robbery involving a knife, there was no way to look at a watch and record how much time the robbery is taking. It was not fair to ask victims to recall with precision how long the incident lasted.

The man said he found the robbery frightening and he was concerned for the woman with him. The woman said she felt terror.

The judge found the victims to be truthful and said their evidence was reliable. They did not embellish their accounts or say they saw more than they did.

He concluded that he was satisfied that Whittaker was the man who had committed the robbery, and found him guilty.

Mr. Brady requested a social inquiry report and sentencing was adjourned until July 30.