‘Fragile’ crack addict sentenced for gas station heists

By Sue Yanagisawa
Local News - Tuesday, August 24, 2004 @ 07:00

A woman whose lawyer claims her boyfriend got her hooked on crack cocaine and twice sent her to rob a gas station last December has been sentenced to house arrest.

Darnelle A. McCaw, 30, received a conditional 15-month sentence to serve in her home, the first 10 months of it under house arrest.

In passing sentence last week, Mr. Justice Rommel Masse said such offences would ordinarily carry a three- to five-year term in penitentiary.

McCaw has been diagnosed as bipolar and has other serious mental health problems, and Masse said he was concerned that sending her to jail could trigger self-mutilating behaviour, even suicide attempts.

McCaw, who hadn’t been in trouble with the law before, slashed her own arms in custody after her arrest in late December. The judge said he didn’t believe putting her in jail would best serve either her or the community.

“She ... is a fragile and vulnerable person who would be picked on mercilessly in jail [by savvy inmates],” Masse said.

McCaw pleaded guilty five months ago to two armed robberies and an assault with a weapon on a gas station attendant. Her sentencing was put over so the court could obtain a presentence report and psychiatric evaluation.

At the time of McCaw’s plea, assistant Crown attorney Priscilla Christie told the judge that her client robbed the Sunoco Gas Bar at 630 Princess St. twice in six days. In the early hours of Dec. 16, she confronted the attendant with a large knife and fled with $209.

On Dec. 22, a different attendant chased her as she made off with $225 from the cash register and tried to stop her by kicking at her feet.

Christie told the judge that McCaw responded by lunging at the man with the knife, yelling: “Can’t you see I’m [messed] up on drugs!”

He backed off, but followed her to a car parked on Nelson Street, where a young man was waiting for her.

The attendant flagged down a taxi after the car drove off and he and the cabbie tried to follow the couple. They ended up losing them, but the attendant recognized the driver as a regular customer of the gas bar.

Based on the attendant’s description, Kingston Police found and seized what was believed to be the getaway car. McCaw and a 27-year-old man, whose case is still before the courts, were arrested and charged with the robberies after the man call police Dec. 27 inquiring about his impounded car.

McCaw’s lawyer, Wayne King, told the court that his client’s is “a very sad case.”

He said the woman has a university degree and for six years, before her bipolar condition was diagnosed, he said she worked with handicapped children.

Then she had what King described as “a major breakdown” and ended up in a coma for a week as a result of “over-medicating.” He told the court it took 16 rounds of shock therapy to bring McCaw around.

After she recovered, McCaw secured a placement at the psychiatric hospital hoping to re-enter the workforce. King said that’s where she met her boyfriend, a crack addict who got her hooked. The man sent her out to rob the gas station to support of their habits.

The judge described her co-accused as “a crack addict and a scoundrel and I would further indicate a coward as well.”

The judge said McCaw is very naive, suffers from low self-esteem and already had problems with substance abuse when she met her boyfriend.

When she committed the crimes, he said, she believed she was in love. The judge noted that reports and assessments submitted to the court suggest she’s now incapable of holding a job.

After McCaw completes her sentence, she’s subject to a two-year probation and was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service.

She’s banned from drinking alcohol or using drugs that haven’t been prescribed by doctors, but she must take all medications her doctors prescribe. She must also participate in any assessment or treatment arranged by her supervisor and the judge banned her from having any contact or communication with her co-accused.

McCaw is subject to a 10-year weapon ban, has been ordered to give a DNA sample and will have to submit to any random drug and alcohol testing required by her supervisor.