Woman vows to never break the law again

Rosie Mullaley
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First-time offender says getting involved in armed robbery was worst decision she ever made

How quickly one bad decision can change your life.
In the matter of minutes, Brenna Gillespie went from being a free-spirited teenager who had never been in trouble with the law to a convicted criminal on her way to serving her first jail term.

Brenna Gillespie breaks down in tears as she’s handcuffed moments after she was sentenced to nine months in jail at provincial court in St. John’s Thursday. — Photo by Rosie Mullaley/The Telegram

In provincial court in St. John’s Thursday, Gillespie cried uncontrollably as she was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom to the holding cells.

“I love you guys,” she said in a shaky voice to members of her family, who were in tears, before she left.

Even after the courtroom door closed, her sobs could be heard from inside.

The 20-year-old was sentenced to nine months in prison, with two years’ probation, for her involvement in an armed bank robbery last year.

She didn’t go inside the bank, but drove the getaway car for the man who did.

“I have made some very poor choices in my life, but I can easily say that the worst one I could have ever made occurred on May 24, 2013,” Gillespie wrote in the statement she read in court before she was sentenced.

“I would do anything to have a chance to turn back time and make smarter decisions.”

At 2:30 p.m. that day, Gillespie drove a friend, Scott Cleary, to the RBC bank in Torbay. He had joked to her that he was going to rob it and even picked up a disguise, but Gillespie said she didn’t believe him.

When Cleary came out of the bank minutes later with a wad of money, Gillespie made a beeline out of the parking lot, spinning the tires of the silver Impala as she sped off.

Cleary had pulled out a knife in the bank and demanded money from the teller. He made off with $3,250.

Cleary and Gillespie then went back to his place, where he gave her $580, which she stuffed in her bra.

About an hour later, after the two left the house, they were stopped by RNC officers, who had gotten a description of the car from witnesses at the bank. Gillespie confessed everything to police and gave officers information on another bank robbery Cleary had committed.

Gillespie seemed genuine as she said she was sorry for being part of a robbery that terrified the employees and customers at the bank.

“I can’t imagine how scared they were,” Gillespie said, breaking down in tears and wiping her nose with tissue. “Suffering from anxiety myself, I know how much that would impact someone and that it would take a very long time to get over something like that. ... I know myself that I will never forget that day as long as I live.”

Gillespie said the ordeal has led her to make positive changes in her life.

She said she’s finally getting treatment for her drug addiction and for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“As much as I regret this, I appreciate the lessons I have learned and I can honestly say that I will never find myself in a situation like this again,” she said.

“This is the first and last criminal charge I will ever receive.”

Being three months’ pregnant has also changed her outlook on life.

“From the moment I found out, I’ve been so motivated to turn over a new leaf,” she said. “For the first time, I’m excited for what my future brings.”

In sentencing Gillespie, Judge Mark Linehan went along with an agreed recommendation from Crown prosecutor Elaine Reid and defence lawyer Randy Piercey.

Reid pointed out that while the range for sentencing is wide, the sentence was appropriate since Gillespie is a first offender, had a positive pre-sentence report, was deemed a low-risk to reoffend and was getting help for her drug addiction and mental health issues.

Piercey said Gillespie had regained control of her life, plans to continue counselling and has the support of her family. He said being pregnant “has matured her mind” and given her another reason to stay out of trouble.

Linehan said Gillespie has taken all the right steps in rehabilitating herself — something he said she didn’t do just to impress the court.

He added that Gillespie is not the first pregnant woman to come before the court, but he was impressed with the attitude and believed she was genuine in her promise to turn her life around.

As part of her sentence, Gillespie was ordered to stay away from RBC in Torbay and to have no contact or communication with Cleary.

In February of this year, Cleary was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in a federal prison.

Since prisoners normally serve two-thirds of a provincial sentence, Gillespie should be out of jail before her baby is due to be born.

Before Gillespie was handcuffed and led off to serve her term, she turned to her family and blew them a kiss.



Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: RBC bank, RBC

Geographic location: Torbay

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Recent comments

  • Virginia Waters
    June 27, 2014 - 13:32

    There is an old saw that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but studies at New York and Harvard universities confirm that there are ancient neuro circuits in our brains that virtually compel us to judge people within 30 seconds of seeing them for the first time. The evening news perp walk is a prime example of that phenomena in that it prompts many of us to make not only judgements of character but invariable of innocence or guilt. Most often it is the latter. Given the nature of the charge, and the demeanour of the accused, it isn't difficult to arrive at a conclusion. Day in, day out, we see the same hard faced career criminals being paraded into court - some offering their obscene comments or gestures along the way. We fully anticipate seeing them again once their sentence is finished and they've had a few weeks if not a few days back on the street. Brenna Gillespie on the other hand appears something of an exception. Not having previously heard any of her story - just watching her demeanour before and after sentencing, it was hard not to believe that this young girl was not beyond redemption. It did not surprise me that it was her first offence or that her gullibility and perhaps detachment from reality allowed her to make a snap decision to participate in a serious crime. Perhaps her family saw it coming and, as often the case, felt powerless to do anything about it. And yet I'm inclined to believe her - that she intends from this point on to remain on the right side of the law. Hopefully our justice and penal systems recognize this as well and can rise above its understandable cynicism to make sure this girl gets every break and every possible support to turn her life around. For her sake and the sake of her baby, it is perhaps as well that she will be institutionalized during much of her pregnancy. The mother-to-be gets a shot at straightening herself out and the baby has a chance of being born healthy - absent the all too frequent medical complications when an expectant mother is exposed to things that could harm it. As jaded as we have become with the daily litany of crimes, the public likes a success story. Hopefully the story of Brenna and her baby will a positive one.

  • Deborah
    June 27, 2014 - 10:40

    This woman received more jail time for robbery than a man did for killing his young daughter recently. If I recall, he received 2 months to be served on weekends. Around the same time, another person received 5 months prison for killing a dog. It would be nice if the punishments for crimes were better regulated.

  • Thomas
    June 27, 2014 - 09:32

    When one goes undiagnosed with a mental illness some follow the path of self medication. Drugs can drive otherwise good people to do bad things to feed their addictions. It's good she has a diagnosis and hopefully being treated for same. I believe there is hope for this young person if she receives the treatment and support both during her incarceration and following her release.

  • Marshall Art
    June 27, 2014 - 08:02

    The guy ' joked 'to her that he was going to rob the bank. She knew that he had previously robbed another bank, but she assumed he was 'joking' about robbing this one even after he picked up a disguise ? Well , duh ?? Figured he must be getting ready for Halloween which was only five months away. Sure, that makes sense.lol

  • paul
    June 27, 2014 - 07:45

    I was on her side until I read that she took money after the 'get away'...if she just dumped him off and disgustedly drove away I would sympathise with her but she really did become an accessory to this crime. crime doesn't pay ...

  • guy incognito
    June 27, 2014 - 07:20

    This young person gets about a year in prison for a first time offence where she was indirectly involved. A man who admits to running over and killing his his ex gets 5 years. Another man beats someone to death and gets 6 years. NL "justice".....just saying.....