Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn initially sentenced a woman on Wednesday to 12 months immediate imprisonment for theft from her employer, but reduced the sentence after hearing about the seriousness of the defendant’s son’s illness.
Louveenia Bonilla Martinez, 43, was ultimately sentenced to serve six months in prison, with the remaining six months of the sentence suspended for two years.
Martinez had pleaded not guilty to five charges of theft from Roper’s Enterprises Ltd. between May 22 and June 30 2014 by writing checks to herself totalling $12,500.
The magistrate found her guilty of all charges. This week, defense attorney Jonathon Hughes spoke in mitigation, telling the court Martinez had medical bills of about $18,000, because of her own health issues and those of her son, who has sickle cell disease.
At the time of the offenses, her financial problems were leading to foreclosure on her home and causing a great deal of distress, he said.
He emphasized the defendant’s previous good character, her remorse, her wish to pay the money back, her medical condition for which she required spinal surgery, and her two dependents.
“Her reputation is a high price to pay,” Mr. Hughes commented. “I think it’s clear from her demeanor the impact this has had on her,” he observed as Martinez sat wringing her hands and wiping tears from her face.
Handing down her initial sentence, the magistrate accepted that someone with Martinez’s medical condition was likely to feel the physical effects of incarceration and her son might need to reach out to someone else for help. She said Martinez’s medical condition did not amount to an exceptional circumstance and the sentence had to be immediate imprisonment.
The appropriate term, she determined, was 12 months in prison, with no compensation order.
Martinez stood crying and asked if she could do community service. “What happened is not who I am,” she told the magistrate. She mentioned that she was supposed to have surgery last year but couldn’t go through it because she was “all stressed out.”
“But, most of all, I’m just asking if you could consider my son. I’m the sole provider for my family. My son deserves a life. He can’t do activities, he can hardly keep a job. I’m seeking bone marrow [for a transplant for him],” she said.
She added that when her son, now 23, was affected, he could not walk or talk or do anything for himself. She was the one who helped him.
The magistrate said this was an unusual situation in that after she had determined the sentence, a factor was brought to her attention that was more weighty than was first suggested.
The magistrate said she was not without sympathy in a situation where the defendant’s offending had an exceptional effect on someone other than herself. Families were often affected financially or by embarrassment, she pointed out, but in this case the son’s situation was quite serious.
Given the new information, she still believed that immediate imprisonment was necessary, she concluded, but there was an exceptional reason to reduce the time. It would be wrong in principle to suspend the whole sentence, she stated, but she would suspend six months of it for two years, leaving Martinez six months to serve immediately.
The defendant had always admitted writing the checks, which her employer had left blank for her to use for business purposes when he was off island. However, after admitting in an interview what she had done, in her trial she said she had written the checks because another employee had told her to and she had then handed the money over to another member of staff. She also blamed her employer for lack of proper supervision.
The magistrate found this “unpleasant allegation” to be an aggravating feature. She said the employer had put a high degree of trust in her and the court found it “staggering” that Martinez began her course of offending soon after she was hired.