Jodicee Reremoana appeared yesterday in the Avarua High Court alongside defence counsel Mark Short to face his punishment for the offence, which took place earlier this year. The lead charge for sentencing was the robbery offence, which carries a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment.
The court was told Reremoana robbed The Woo Store in Titikaveka in February. After learning there was just one female shop assistant present in the store, he parked his motorbike. He entered the store carrying a knife, which he held to the shop assistant’s throat and demanded money from the till.
According to the police summary of facts, Reremoana wore a shirt over his face in an attempt to conceal his identity. The total amount taken from the store was around $620 dollars, along with $140 in cheques, which were destroyed by the defendant.
Despite Reremoana’s attempt to conceal his identity, the victim was able to identify him through CCTV footage.
Crown Prosecutor Alison Mills told the court that within just two hours the police identified and located the defendant and arrested him.
Reremoana initially denied any involvement in the robbery but after further questioning, admitted to the offence.
When they searched his home, police found 3.95 grams of cannabis and a filtration device used for smoking cannabis. The defendant admitted that the substance and device were his.
Mills said robbery with this degree of aggression was a rare occurrence in the Cook Islands, and had left the victim and members of the public in shock and fear.
Among aggravating factors in the offence was the fact that Reremoana had used a weapon.
“He carried the knife to the robbery and held it to the victim’s throat.
“Also there was a degree of premeditation and planning in that he checked out the shop first and carried the knife to the shop.
“The attempt to conceal his identity is considered an aggravating factor and also the vulnerability of the victim in the sense that it was 8.30 at night, and she was alone.
“Whilst he had checked that there was no-one else in the store, there was also possibility that members of the general public could have entered and could unintentionally have become victims of this crime,” Mills said.
She said Reremoana should be held accountable for his actions, and that sentencing should deter others in the community from this type of offending.
Short said the offence was Reremoana’s first appearance in court and he had entered an early guilty plea. At the time of the offence the defendant had fallen victim to depression, he said.
“He should not have been in court today. He just made a silly decision which has now changed his life.
“He was in a very dark place at the time of the offence. He had fallen behind on rent, power and other bills and was on the verge of being evicted. He acted out of pure desperation.”
Short said Reremoana did not have a solid support system on Rarotonga and had suffered a troubled childhood, with drug use and family abuse prevalent.
Reremoana did not understand the severity of his offending, he added.
“Since the offence, Reremoana has taken part in four months of counselling which had led to a significant change in his mood and behaviour,” Short said.
“He is very remorseful, and he is very sorry for what he has done. He does not have a criminal history and this is not the kind of person he is.
“He has undertaken counselling to get his thinking and reasoning right. This has assisted in helping him understand that what he did was wrong, and basically he has been given the tools now to navigate around these kinds of problems.
“He understands now that he made a mistake and he wants to take ownership for his actions now,” Short said.
Justice Keane asked Short to offer an insight into the appropriate length of custodial sentence to impose on the defendant.
“You have the authority and the discretion to impose whatever sentence you feel will fit the situation. All I can say is that the defendant is not of the same category as (some of) the types of people (who) come in for sentencing,” Short said.
“I do accept that, and that is precisely why I am asking you: He isn’t, but equally his offence is very serious and that is why we have to reconcile two irreconcilable things here,” Keane said.
“We will accept whatever sentence the court imposes on him, he is ready to accept his punishment your worship,” Short replied.
Justice Keane noted that Reremoana was different from many other Cook Islanders, in that his support system relied on his brother.
“You (Reremoana) only have your brother for support here, which is quite unusual. Most Cook Islanders have an extended family and a large support system.
“I understand the offending happened because you were desperate, you owed rent, you owed money for food and were under pressure. The report says that in that state you decided that the only option was to commit this very serious offence.
“Your counsel also led me to understand that when you committed this offence, you were not simply subject to the ordinary pressure of having to pay rent, but the likelihood was that you were in a state of depression, for which you have received counselling for since.
“Nonetheless the effect of your primary offence, the robbery, on the victim was evident.
“She was not injured, but the effect on her emotionally was very real, she is understandably very frightened and angry as a result of your actions,
“I do have to say to you that your offence is serious,
“You were charged with robbery, but because of the nature of the offence, you could have been charged with aggravated robbery.
“Once you present a knife to someone’s throat, something unintentional could happen,” Justice Keane said.
“Given the seriousness of your offence, the only recommendation that could be made was one of imprisonment.
“Prosecutions recommends that a starting point of imprisonment lies between 3-4 years.
“I will have a starting point of three and a half years, I am going to take away 10 per cent, because until you committed this offending you were a person of good character and because you have expressed remorse.
“I also intend to discount 30 per cent for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity.
“So this sentencing is not too crushing for you given your age and state, I will round the sentencing down to a flat two years in prison,” Keane said.
The justice said he would sentence the defendant to two months in prison for each drug offence, but that was included in the two years imposed on Reremoana.
“There will also be an order for the destruction of the cannabis and the bong, and you will pay $50 court costs,” Keane said.