Judge struggles with sentence of intellectually challenged man

Rosie Mullaley
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Justin Murphy, who broke into two homes and stole a taxi and rolled it, was sentenced to nine months in jail at provincial court in St. John’s Thursday. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

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.



Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Waterford Hospital, Orange Store, GEO Centre

Geographic location: Water Street, Signal Hill

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Recent comments

  • Anne Hoskins
    July 06, 2012 - 12:21

    I think that inmates of Canadian correctional facilities should be segregated. People with intellectual difficulties should be housed together with other inmates with the same problems. Lifers should be kept with other lifers etc.

  • k
    July 06, 2012 - 10:40

    Not Sincerely. These people labeled Judges Should somehow,way ,or manner experience what the victims lived through and continue to do so. This may let them make a just and right decision. I am sick and tired of hearing moms , dads girlfriends,etc. crying for the crimminal. Judges as justice is a farce. The victims well to hell with them Who Cares? Not the so called JUDGES (My belief in todays siciety.

  • J
    July 06, 2012 - 08:38

    "The treatment of crime and criminals is one of the unfailing tests of the civilization of any country." - Winston Churchill Sending criminals to jail only makes them better at crime... they spend their time figuring out how to get away with it next time...

  • Alicia Manning
    July 06, 2012 - 08:38

    If Mr. Intellectually Challenged is able to drive, and steal and do whatever else, he should be sentence to the hard time necessary. I think its rediculous that he has the brains to be able to steal a car and drive it, and also break into homes, and understand what he is doing but the Judge doesn't have the heart to sentence him to jail long term. No wonder the problems in this world will never get better.

  • McJudgement
    July 06, 2012 - 07:58

    Why oh why do we have so many judges that are soft on punishment for crimes against the tax paying public? Sure, Mr. Murphy is "intellectually challenged." However, aren't most of the inmates and criminals in this town challenged in some shape or form? Should they all get Ronald McDonald treatment from a judge like this, too? I wonder how our justice system would look if we actually elected judges based on their record of performance like they do in the US? Something tells me harder punishments and time in the pen might even make some of these career criminals think twice about committing another crime because they might actually face stiffer sentences rather than a judge who says, "I wish you well." Murphy will be out in 6 months and the RNC will have him back in McCourt in 7 months again. And what does the court say for the victims in this town? "Sorry about your luck."

    • J
      July 06, 2012 - 08:31

      "The treatment of crime and criminals is one of the unfailing tests of the civilization of any country." - Winston Churchill Revenge should not be a principal of justice in a civilized society. The statistics show that sending people to prison just makes them better at getting away with crimes... think about that next time you push for a harder sentence.

    • Flingo
      July 06, 2012 - 08:41

      Perhaps you might show a little more sympathy had the people in the courtroom not been so politically correct. Mr. Murphy is what used to be called "retarded". That makes him different from the career criminals. It also makes sentencing him a difficult task for the Judge. You obviously are not familiar with Judge Hyslop, either. He is a former Crown Prosecutor, who has been a Judge for many years. He is NOT a pushover. He has no problem locking people up for lengthy periods of time, and has often done that, but he tries to ensure only the people who really need it. He is also polite and treats with respect all the people who appear before him. Perhaps you might want to find a better case upon which to found your "lock 'em up and throw away the key" rant.