Mentally ill woman said she robbed store to get out of halfway house

Rosie Mullaley
Published on June 12, 2014
Sonya Collins was in provincial court in St. John’s Thursday to be sentenced for an attempted armed robbery last fall.
— Photo by Rosie Mullaley/The Telegram

A woman who said she was so desperate to get out of a halfway house that she tried to hold up a convenience store got her wish Thursday.

Sonya Collins will spend the next few years in prison after she was sentenced at provincial court in St. John’s.

The 34-year-old was given a 34-month jail term, with two years’ probation. With 307 days credit for the time she’s already spent in custody, Collins has two years less a day left on her term.

“If you need help, you need help,” Judge Colin Flynn said in handing down the sentence, “but this is not the way to do it.”

At the time of the incident last fall, Collins — who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia — had been living at Emmanuel House, having just been released from the psychiatric ward at the Health Sciences Centre.

On Nov. 12, 2013, she walked into Needs Convenience on Military Road with a knife and demanded money.

When the clerk refused to give her the cash, Collins demanded cigarettes. Again, he refused and told her the police were on the way. She didn’t believe him.

At one point, a female customer walked into the store and Collins went towards her with the knife, prompting the woman to run out. Minutes later, RNC officers arrived, drew their firearms and arrested Collins.

She told officers she did it because she didn’t want to be homeless.

She pleaded guilty to attempted armed robbery and assault with a weapon.

In sentencing Collins, the judge went along with an agreed recommendation from Crown prosecutor Sheldon Steeves and defence lawyer Tim O’Brien.

Steeves pointed out that the incident “was not as serious as a full robbery” and that “her intention was to have someone else take care of her.”

Collins has a criminal record that includes violent offences. At the time of her arrest, she had just finished serving a two-year sentence for aggravated assault.

Steeves said the suggested sentence would be “sufficient to safeguard the community.”

O’Brien presented a letter to the court from psychiatrist Dr. David Craig, outlining Collins’ illness.

He suggested the robbery was a cry for help.

“As far as robberies go, it was not a lucid attempt,” O’Brien said.

Flynn said it was clear Collins has issues.

“There was no indication her mental-health issues precipitated the offence, but judging from the video, there was something beyond the ordinary,” he said.

As part of her sentence, Collins is banned from having a weapon for 20 years. She must submit a DNA sample and pay a $200 victim surcharge to the court.

Twitter: @TelyCourt