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.
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.