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Cynthia Shute says she is ‘not the same person’ who committed 2015 robbery
Had Cynthia Shute been sentenced for her armed robbery when it happened five years ago, she would likely have gotten a jail sentence of three or four years.
Holding a knife to a restaurant employee’s throat and demanding cash while wearing a face mask isn’t something that should be taken lightly, the prosecutor in her case said Monday, describing the robbery as one of the more serious ones the court has seen.
Given the time it took for police — some of whom were disciplined in connection with the case — to charge Shute, as well as the progress she has made in the past couple of years when it comes to rehabilitation, a jail sentence of 18 months is more appropriate at this point, the prosecutor and defence lawyer said Monday.
A provincial court judge agreed.
“I just want to say that I’m not the same person I used to be,” Shute told the court, breaking down in tears.
"I’m not the same person I used to be." — Cynthia Shute
Shute, now 36, pleaded guilty to charges of armed robbery, wearing a disguise with the intention to commit a crime, possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose and breaching a court order in connection with a robbery at a Subway restaurant in Goulds in April 2015.
The lone clerk told police he had been sitting behind the counter in the empty restaurant around 11:20 p.m. when a man and a woman entered wearing black hoodies and ski masks and smelling of alcohol, each carrying a knife.
The woman jumped over the counter and held the knife to the clerk’s neck, telling him to open the cash register. After asking if there was a voice recorder in the restaurant, the robbers ran away with $300 cash. The clerk followed them outside and saw the woman’s knife on the ground.
Seven months later, RNC investigators sent the knife and a white sock they had found in front of the cash register and suspected to have been worn by the woman on her hand during the robbery to the RCMP’s national crime lab in Ottawa for analysis.
Three months after that, they received a report from the lab saying the DNA profile of a woman had been taken from both items.
Word soon came back that the DNA profile matched a profile taken from another crime scene and found to belong to Shute. The following September — seven more months later — another hit from another crime scene was determined to also be Shute’s.
More than a year later, police in Truro, N.S., executed a warrant to obtain a blood sample from Shute for DNA evaluation purposes, and last February the lab confirmed Shute’s sample matched the profile on the knife and the sock.
Shute was charged last March. By that time, she had been convicted of other robberies, including an armed robbery at the Guv’nor Pub in St. John’s four days after the Subway had been targeted.
Under questioning by police for the Guv’nor robbery the day it happened, Shute was asked if she had robbed the Subway.
“Not sure. I was on some heavy drugs and it was a long time ago,” she told them.
Until Monday, Shute’s most recent conviction was on April 6, 2018, when she received a sentence of two years, nine months and 25 days.
Having finished the mandatory period in prison, she had received day parole and then full parole and did very well, according to a parole officer supervisor who testified Monday.
“There have been times, yes, when she had challenges, but she was always willing to work with us and we did notice that she put the effort in,” said Pamela Broders of Corrections Canada.
"... she was always willing to work with us and we did notice that she put the effort in." — Pamela Broders of Corrections Canada
Shute had participated in counseling and substance-abuse programs, and had displayed a commitment to staying clean and getting her life back in order, Broders said, and she consistently took her ADHD medication and found a job — her employer came to court to support her — and a place to live.
She had been making good decisions and asking for help when needed, Broders said.
That includes last week, the day before she was scheduled to go to trial on the armed robbery charges, when she spoke with a mental-health nurse and told her that she was stressed about going to court.
Crying on the phone, Shute spoke of possibly harming herself and said, “I should just go and cut someone’s throat.”
“We no longer felt her risk was manageable in the community,” Broders explained, saying Shute was taken back into custody to serve the remainder of her sentence.
It was a security issue and not a parole condition breach, Broders said.
“We did attribute it to this situation.”
Prosecutor Nicole Hurley read aloud victim impact statements from the Subway clerk and franchise owner Monday.
The clerk wrote of feeling scared and suffering post-traumatic stress, with insomnia and anxiety.
“Fear of retribution from the attacker was troubling,” he wrote in somewhat broken English. “My fear during that time was that I might be secretly followed and having that kind of security concern and taking extra security measures to try and avoid any possible incident was not a normal time for an ordinary person like me.”
The franchise owner spoke of feeling fear for his employees and guilt for putting them in a position where a similar crime could occur, even with measures taken to prevent it.
“I’ve experienced many armed robberies; too numerous to count. This incident was the most serious of all these, based on the actions of the accused,” the businessman wrote.
Provincial court Judge David Orr gave his sentencing decision on the spot.
“It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the impact was serious in relation to (the clerk) and I think anyone can sympathize with that,” Orr said. “All these indications point to the seriousness of the offence.”
However, he noted, a judge’s role is to impose a fit sentence, and judges are obligated to accept joint submissions on sentencing from the Crown and defence, unless they can prove it would be contrary to public interest or would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
Orr agreed with Hurley and defence lawyer Sylina Jones that the five-year delay in Shute’s case has affected her “significant effort in turning her life around,” and said an 18-month sentence would serve to denunciate her crime and protect the community, and still take her current situation into account.
Orr applied the 18 months consecutive to Shute’s current sentence, meaning she has a total sentence of about 52 months.