A 23-year-old St. John's woman who held up a drug store pharmacy out of desperation for drugs has been given a 2-1/2-year jail term.
Raquel Sonier was sentenced to 31 1/2 months in provincial court in St. John's. Judge Robert Hyslop gave her 42 days straight-time credit for the time she's already served in jail, leaving 30 months on her term.
Sonier pleaded guilty to armed robbery, possessing a weapon and breaching a recognizance.
She was charged after she held up the pharmacy at Shopper's Drug Mart on Lemarchant Road on Dec. 11, 2013. Sonier got a cab to the store, walked behind the counter at the pharmacy, approached the pharmacist on duty and demanded methodone.
When the pharmacist backed off, Sonier grabbed her neck, breaking the pharmacist's necklace. A second female pharmacist, working in a back office, heard screams and ran out. She threw a garbage bucket over Sonier's head and kicked her, causing Sonier to buckle at the knees. The second pharmacist and two male customers held Sonier down until police arrived shortly after.
Sonier admitted to police what she did and said it was because she was having withdrawal symptoms, including body chills.
Sonier had been released after her initial court appearance, but was jailed Jan. 30 of this year for failing to sign in to RNC headquarters, one of the conditions of her recognizance.
Both pharmacists on duty the day of the robbery wrote victim impact statements, which were read in court by the judge. The women said they suffered emotional and psychological effects they've from the incident.
"I feel a loss of security at work...," wrote one of the pharmacists, who underwent counselling. "I fear it will happen again."
Crown prosecutor Sheldon Steeves recommended a three-year sentence, noting the seriousness of the incident and the impact it's had on the pharmacists, who he said were vulnerable because of their line of work.
Defence lawyer Jason Edwards said 30 months was more appropriate because Sonier is a youthful, first-time offender who needs help for her addiction.
He said Sonier has been abusing drugs since the age of 11 and was dismissed from the methodone program last year for missing appointments.
"That turned her recovery into a tail spin," Edwards said. "Things were getting out of hand."
He said Sonier has a four-year-old son and she wants to get her life straightened out.
Sonier cried when Edwards spoke of her son.
Hyslop said it was unfortunate what Sonier was going through, but said what she did was serious — using a weapon.
"This could've been so much more serious. Fortunately, it wasn't," the judge said, "not due to (Sonier), but to the alertness and outright heroism of (the pharmacist)."
While Hyslop said he doesn't want to encourage people to engage in that type of retaliation, he commended the woman for her quick actions.
"Clearly, this is a case of a troubled young woman," said the judge said, who said Sonier was operating with a somewhat reduced capacity.
However, he added that she had no regard for the safety of the pharmacists, who work in a business that helps the health and safety of the community.
The sentence included a $300 victim surcharge and a 10-year weapons prohibition. Sonier must also submit a DNA sample.