Court ceiling crawler gets 15-month jail term

Richard Bennett cries, apologizes for his actions

Rosie Mullaley
Published on February 16, 2011
Richard Bennett was sentenced to 15 months in prison Tuesday at provincial court in St. John’s. In September 2010, Bennett tried to escape custody by crawling through the ceiling of the court’s holding cells. It was one of many crimes he committed over a five-month span. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

Thirty minutes in a ceiling has resulted in a 15-month jail term for a Mount Pearl man.

Richard Bennett — who sparked panic at provincial court in St. John’s last fall when he crawled through the hanging tiles in the court’s holding cells in an attempt to escape custody — was sentenced Tuesday.

The 33-year-old cried throughout much of the proceedings and told the judge he knew what he did was wrong.

Reading from a handwritten statement, he explained at the time, he was grieving the death of his mother, the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of his five children as a result.

“I reacted in a way I shouldn’t have,” Bennett said, wiping tears from his eyes.

“I’m so sorry. If I could take back the time, I would.”

Bennett pleaded guilty to 13 charges, stemming from eight different incidents that all happened in the span of five months — between September of last year and January of this year.

He was given straight-time credit for the 176 days he’s spent in pre-trial custody, leaving a little more than nine months on his sentence.

After he’s released from prison, Bennett will be on three years’ probation, with conditions that include keeping the peace and being on good behaviour and having no contact with his former wife.

He must also submit a DNA sample and is banned from having a firearm.

While in prison, Bennett is not permitted to have any contact with any of the complainants.

The sentence, rendered by Judge David Power, followed a joint recommendation by Crown prosecutor Heidi Wells and defence lawyer Kim McKay.

Bennett pleaded guilty to several counts of assault, breaches of court orders and damage to property.

They were the culmination from such incidents that included harassing his ex-wife, trashing the house he had rented in Mount Pearl, assaulting police officers and assaulting inmates at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary and damaging property there.

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But the judge considered Bennett’s attempted escape from custody to be the most serious of his crimes.

On Sept. 27, Bennett was in court to answer to charges of property damage and breaching a court order in relation to an unrelated incident at a Mount Pearl house earlier that month.

While he was in the interview room at the court’s holding cells waiting to speak to his lawyer, he climbed onto a table, pushed away one of the hanging tiles and crawled into the ceiling.

Close to 100 provincial court employees on the fourth floor of Atlantic Place were evacuated as Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and sheriff’s officers, along with the RNC’s K9 unit, tracked his movements.

He was traced to the other end of the floor, in the court administration division, where officers yelled for him to come down.

“F--k you,” Bennett shouted back.

Minutes later, he kicked his way down through the ceiling and made a run for it.

Bennett punched a police officer in the face before RNC and sheriff’s officers were able to restrain him. On the floor, Bennett experienced what appeared to be a seizure and was brought to hospital.

When he regained consciousness at St. Clare’s Hospital, he said he didn’t remember anything.

McKay told the judge Bennett suffered a brain injury a few years ago which left him with epilepsy.

But he went through an especially hard time last year. He’s otherwise a hard-working family man, she said.

“He was in a desperate state of mind …,” she said. “(These actions) were out of character.”

She also pointed out that while he’s had minor brushes with the law in the past, he has never spent any significant time behind bars.

Bennett’s sister testified that the accumulation of stressful events in her brother’s life last fall — including their mother’s death while he was in custody — led to his criminal behaviour.

She said he hadn’t been able to afford his epilepsy medication, but she will make sure he gets it.

Before Bennett was taken back into custody to serve his sentence, Power advised him to get counselling while in prison, to stay out of trouble and get his life moving forward.