A third man charged with taking a hostage at Her Majesty's Penitentiary last August has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of unlawful confinement.
Justin Owens is led out of provincial court Monday after he was sentenced to six months for damaging property at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary last August during what police say was a hostage taking. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram
Julian Matthew Squires appeared in Provincial Court with lawyer Nick Avis. Sentencing has been scheduled for Monday. Charges against two other men laid after the incident are expected to go to trial.
This update contains clarifications to the original
Earlier: Hostage-taking charges dropped against two men
Two men who had been accused of being involved in a hostage-taking at the province’s largest prison last summer have been convicted of a lesser charge.
In provincial court in St. John’s Wednesday, Philip James Hollihan, 28, and Justin Owens, 24, both pleaded guilty to mischief by damaging property at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in August 2013.
Both Hollihan and Owens had also been charged with hostage-taking and having their face masked.
However, Crown prosecutor Shawn Patten agreed to withdraw those more serious charges, since, he said, there was no evidence to suggest they were involved in the reported prison riot.
After Hollihan pleaded guilty to the charge, his sentencing hearing was set for April 15.
Lawyers opted to go ahead with sentencing for Owens, who was, at the end of a hearing, given a six-month prison term.
Hollihan and Owens were charged with four other inmates — Julian Matthew Squires, Adam Hayden, Justin Christopher Hopkins and Justin Wiseman — following an incident Aug. 5 at HMP.
It’s unknown how the reported ruckus started, but the men were said to have demanded cigarettes in exchange for a hostage, another inmate.
There was extensive damage to inside the institution, including destroyed doors and smashed windows.
During Owens’ sentencing hearing, Judge David Orr heard that Owens participated by instigating the incident and destroying one of two surveillance cameras on the unit by putting a tub of butter over it.
“He does accept responsibility for his criminal behaviour and has expressed remorse,” defence lawyer Ken Mahoney said in court.
Owens — who had finished serving a three-year jail term for an armed robbery he committed in 2000 — was at HMP at the time for breaching a court order.
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In sentencing, Orr took into consideration Owens’ lengthy criminal record, which, along with the robbery, includes a slew of breaches of court orders.
“You have a lengthy history of non-compliance,” Orr said. “Now, you’ve been charged while failing to abide by the rules of the institution.
“It was a serious situation,” the judge added about the reported riot.
Orr pointed out that Owens has, “from time-to-time,” made progress in his life by being employed and registering for school, but added that it hasn’t been consistent. However, he noted that Owens has family support, is still young and is not without hope.
The six-month term was a compromise between the lawyers’ recommendations. Patten had suggested Owens get a six- to 10-month sentence. Mahoney said three to six months was more appropriate.
When Owens took the stand, he said that since he’s been in jail, he’s gained 30 pounds because he hasn’t been allowed access to the prison’s gym to exercise. He also said he had open-heart surgery in 2000 and is supposed to be on a low-fat diet. However, he said, his requests to prison officials have not been answered.
Mahoney requested to the judge that Owen be transferred to West Coast Correctional Centre in Stephenville.
Orr said he would make the recommendation, but added that it would ultimately be up to administrators at the penitentiary where Owens will serve his sentence.
Both Hollihan and Owens’ cases were not listed on the court’s daily docket. They were called unexpectedly late in the afternoon after defence lawyers and the Crown reached a deal.
The remaining four facing charges as a result of the HMP incident are scheduled to be in Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s today for a trial.