A man who originally pleaded not guilty to charges of robbery in 2014 changed his mind on Friday and received a sentence of six years. The sentence is to be served concurrently with a term of eight years he is currently serving for a later offense.
James Romano Whittaker pleaded guilty to robbing four people at Coconut Joe’s Bar and Grill on Oct. 16, 2014. He also admitted possession of an imitation firearm with intent to commit an offense, namely robbery. All offenses were charged as being committed “with another person,” who was not named.
Whittaker initially pleaded not guilty to these same charges in April 2015, and a trial date was set. Meanwhile he went on trial for what Crown counsel Scott Wainwright referred to as “a street robbery at knifepoint,” which occurred on Nov. 22, 2014. In that matter, Justice Charles Quin imposed a term of 10 years, which the Court of Appeal reduced to eight years last November.
The Coconut Joe’s incident was earlier than the street robbery by about five weeks. The court session on Friday afternoon began as a Goodyear hearing – that is, a request by Whittaker to know the highest his sentence would be if he pleaded guilty.
Grand Court Justice Paul Worsley referred to “the careful submissions in writing” filed by defense attorney Crister Brady. He noted that according to Whittaker’s record of previous convictions, the longest sentence he had received before the eight years for the street robbery was three years for burglary. He said the sentence he had in mind would run concurrently, so that the court would be able to see how Whittaker behaved.
Mr. Brady agreed and the indictment was put to the defendant.
Whittaker then pleaded guilty to stealing, with another person, by fear of force, $600 and a gold chain from one victim; $15 and a gold chain valued at $300 from a second victim; a wallet with $5 cash and discount cards from a third; and US$40 from a fourth. The fifth count referred to the imitation firearm, to which Whittaker also pleaded guilty.
Mr. Wainwright said the robberies occurred at the West Bay Road establishment around 11:40 p.m., when two masked men with handguns entered the bar from the rear and proceeded to rob patrons and staff, taking $600 from the cash register. The intruders were on the premises for one and a half minutes and were caught on CCTV.
Police officers viewed the CCTV, and although the robbers were masked, one of the officers recognized Whittaker by other features. The person identified as Whittaker was seen to be wearing distinctive shorts. When the officers obtained a search warrant and went to Whittaker’s residence, a pair of shorts matching those in the CCTV was found in Whittaker’s yard.
The shorts were sent to a forensic analyst and were found to be the same as those in the CCTV footage.
Justice Worsley pointed out that Whittaker had targeted the club, he was part of a team and had worn a mask. The victims must have been terrified, he commented.
The judge hoped that Whittaker, who is now in his mid-30s, would consider whether it was worth it to spend his best years in prison.
The judge imposed terms of five years for each of the four robberies and six years for the firearm, but made the sentences concurrent with each other and concurrent to the term Whittaker is currently serving.
Compass records show that after the street robbery conviction, Whittaker admitted he committed that offense because he needed money to purchase cocaine.
He added that he did not think he should commend the officer who was vigilant in viewing the CCTV and recognizing Whittaker, “but it was good police work,” he said.