He’s served on the bench for decades, but Judge Robert Hyslop admitted to making one of the most difficult sentencing decisions of his career Thursday.
“This was a hard decision for me — one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make,” Hyslop said during the sentencing hearing for Justin Murphy at provincial court in St. John’s.
Murphy is a 26-year-old man who, over the past four months, committed a slew of crimes, including breaking into two homes, stealing a taxi and rolling it on Signal Hill.
However, the 26-year-old is intellectually challenged, has been diagnosed with a developmental disorder and seemed to want help.
He pleaded guilty to six charges, including two break-ins, theft, dangerous driving and breaches of court orders.
Crown prosecutor Tannis King pushed for a two-year jail term for Murphy, who has a lengthy criminal history with an escalation in the seriousness of his offences.
Defence lawyer Michelle Wilson wanted a conditional sentence, reminding the judge of Murphy’s medical issues, the three years he’s spent at the Waterford Hospital and the remorse he’s shown.
Murphy took the stand and begged the judge to spare him any more time behind bars at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.
“It’s not fit for no one to be there,” said Murphy, who said he is often threatened and physically assaulted by other inmates.
“If you could give me another chance, it would be good. I’ve learned my lesson this time — big time.”
In the back of the courtroom, Murphy’s mother broke down in tears several times.
Hyslop was visibly troubled by the circumstances of the case.
“He’s not going to do well in either a provincial or federal institution,” Hyslop said. “So what do I do?”
In the end, the judge settled on a nine-month jail term. With 66 days credit for the time he’s already served behind bars, it leaves six months and 24 days left to serve.
Once he’s released, Murphy, who is originally from Dildo, will be on two years’ probation. He is also banned from driving for a year.
Hyslop said he had to consider what was best for Murphy and what was best for the public.
“I’m being as sympathetic as I can,” the judge said. “He requires sensitivity, but also needs to be punished. Somehow I need to find a balance.”
It was such a complex and sensitive case, the sentencing took more than two hours to complete.
The hearing started at around 3 p.m. By the time the facts were read, lawyers presented their cases, Murphy had his say and Hyslop made his ruling, it was 5:10 p.m. — an hour and 10 minutes past the regular court closing time.
The charges stem from three separate incidents.
On Feb. 28, Murphy broke into a woman’s house on Water Street in St. John’s and made off with several items, including a DVD player, a 42-inch LCD television, a stereo, a surround-sound speaker system, a radio and jewelry.
Murphy knew the woman who lived in the house.
She had stayed at his house that night. Earlier that day, he secretly switched her house key with another and told her he had to go to the hospital.
Instead, he went to her house to steal her property.
He then brought the items to another woman, who he was romantically interested in.
The woman who had her property stolen immediately suspected Murphy and called police.
Murphy first tried to blame another man, but later admitted to the crime after an outside video surveillance camera from the Orange Store/North Atlantic gas station on Water Street showed Murphy walking down the road carrying many of the items.
On April 9, Murphy broke into a neighbour’s house and stole several items, including a computer, a photocopier, scanner, guitar and amplifier.
He then sold many of the items to other neighbours, who told police when they discovered they were stolen.
On May 23, RNC patrol officers noticed the driver of a taxi commit a driving infraction near the Signal Hill tourist centre at about 3:15 a.m.
The officers tried to stop the car after discovering it had been reported stolen from the downtown area.
Police followed the taxi up Signal Hill before the car was driven over a median towards a police officer, who had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit.
On the way down Signal Hill, Murphy lost control of the car and rolled it near the GEO Centre. He tried to run away before being caught by officers.
Hyslop said while Murphy seems to understand what he did was wrong, he has poor judgment and has a difficult time controlling his impulses.
“I understand when he says HMP is not fit. It’s not the Hilton Hotel,” the judge said. “But unfortunately there are few tools for me at my disposal.
“This sentence is long enough to send a message, but not so long to deprive him of hope.”
After sentencing, Hyslop warned Murphy to abide by the law from now on or else he would end up in a federal prison.
“I wish you well,” Hyslop said to Murphy, who was then led out of the courtroom.