Violent robbery creates 'climate of fear,' judge says

Ten-year sentence for man who used knife to rob couple

James Romano Whittaker was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment Thursday for robbing a couple at knifepoint late last year as they were sitting on a seawall in George Town. 

“When two young people cannot even sit in a quiet yet public place such as North Church Street without being violently robbed, there is cause for very serious concern,” Justice Charles Quin said during the sentencing. 

He made the comment after finding Whittaker guilty of robbing the couple on Nov. 22, 2014. They had been sitting on the seawall at the Charles Building, next to Burger King, when Whittaker approached them and demanded money. When they said they did not have any, he held a knife to the young man’s throat before taking the woman’s handbag and an iPhone from the man’s car. 

“A robbery at knifepoint on the waterfront of George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, not only terrifies the immediate victims, but also shocks the residents and has a negative effect on businesses in George Town. It creates a climate of fear and it has the potential to deter tourists from visiting the Cayman Islands. If these violent robberies are not stopped they will have a damaging effect on our economy and employment,” Justice Quin said. 

“I offer the country’s gratitude and appreciation to the two victims in this case,” he said. “After the terrible ordeal of the robbery, they went directly to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and gave full and detailed accounts of the robbery. They attended identification parades. They gave clear and frank evidence in court and were subjected to rigorous but proper cross-examination,” he said. 

“If witnesses come forward promptly to assist the RCIPS in the battle against crime, more criminals will be caught and convicted,” Justice Quin asserted. 

He noted that there has been considerable comment in the media regarding adjournments of court cases. He said it was important that people commenting on the criminal justice system first apprise themselves of all the facts. 

In this case, the robbery was committed on Nov. 22, the case came to Grand Court on Dec. 17, bail was denied on Dec. 19, and Whittaker pleaded not guilty on June 8. Trial took place over four days and the guilty verdict was handed down on June 30. 

“This is one of several cases that have been concluded [subject to appeal] in a timely fashion,” Justice Quin pointed out. “This is a case for which the RCIPS conducted a quick and thorough investigation and provided the necessary disclosure to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the defense. I also commend the DPP, defense counsel and the judicial administration staff in concluding this case without undue delay.” 

Although Whittaker had pleaded not guilty, defense attorney Crister Brady said his client later acknowledged committing the robbery because he needed money to purchase cocaine. 

Although Whittaker had 37 previous convictions at age 35, this was his first offense involving the threat of violence with a weapon, the attorney pointed out. 

Justice Quin accepted submissions on sentence from Mr. Brady and senior Crown counsel Tanya Lobban on Aug. 31. He reserved his decision until last week. 

The aggravating features of the offense included the fact that it occurred at night and involved a weapon. Whittaker had worn a hoodie in an attempt to conceal his identity; that and the knife showed an element of planning. He had been on bail, but interfered with his electronic monitoring device to disguise his location. The female victim had been affected to the point that she no longer feels safe going to secluded parts of the island and will not go out or do anything on her own. 

Whittaker, in his interview with a probation officer, had said he did not know how his victims felt, “but I guess they would have been angry or scared, that’s how I would feel.” 

As to his offending, he admitted, “I don’t feel good about what I did, but I was not in my right state of mind.” 

Justice Quin told him to use his time in custody to get off the drug, learn a trade and undergo further education. “There is no reason why you cannot put crime behind you and become a law-abiding citizen, but you must stay away from illegal drugs.”