Armed robber to be sentenced Thursday

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – A Cornwall man will learn his fate Thursday for a series of violent robberies in the city in the winter of 2014.

John Pecore, 34, pleaded guilty in April to six counts of robbery, five counts of disguise with intent and two counts for breaching probation orders. The balance of the 28 charges he was facing were withdrawn.

Small local businesses were robbed between December 2014 and January 2015 while Pecore was wearing a disguise (a hoodie) and in two cases, a hammer and a steel pipe were used as weapons. A taxi cab driver was also robbed in another case.

The Crown is seeking three years in prison while the defence is looking for 90 days to be served on weekends.

During sentencing submissions Tuesday, John Pecore and Rev. William Mein, the founder of Harvest House, took the stand.

The clean-cut 34-year-old Pecore was dressed in a dark suit with a white shirt and blue tie and over a dozen supporters – many in suits and ties – filled the tiny courtroom almost to capacity.

Pecore, who has been at the Harvest House – a Christian-based suburban Ottawa drug and alcohol treatment center – since January 2015, testified about his addiction to alcohol, crack cocaine, regular cocaine and marijuana and his strained and fractured relationship with his family.

Those relationships have improved somewhat over a year as Pecore said he has been able to spend time with his wife again after a previous no-contact order and has been able to connect with his five children.

Defence lawyer Paul Lewandowski asked Pecore who he had to thank for the improvements in his life. “I have to thank Harvest House,” Pecore said.

Pecore has been making presentations in schools with the facility’s VIP (Values, Influences, Peers) program to teach young people about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. He has also completed an anger management program and is now teaching those same programs at Harvest House. “The best way to learn something is to teach it,” Pecore testified.

He described the tough Harvest House treatment as the “addiction as a wound and putting salt in it to heal it.”

He has completed his high-school equivalency diploma since being at Harvest House and wants to go to university with the goal of becoming a drug and alcohol addictions counsellor.

As for the robbery victims, Pecore said, if he were allowed, he would write a letter to each of his victims to apologize for his actions.

Crown Attorney Matthew Collins challenged Pecore on why those letters weren’t already written and ready to go should the court allow him to proceed.

During his testimony, Rev. William Mein, the founder of Harvest House, said Pecore is making improvements but “John’s going to be at this for a while” suggesting it could take as long as seven years to “rebuild everything” in his life.

Judge Bruce McPhee acknowledged Harvest House as an “enormous benefit to the region” and asked Rev. Mein what John Pecore’s danger points would be.

Mein answered that if Pecore served a prison sentence in the regular population, he may relapse into drug use in order to fit in with the prison population.

During closing arguments, defence lawyer Paul Lewandowski said he gets a “high sense of pride in my craft,” suggesting defence lawyers are usually vilified by the media.

“But what the press doesn’t see, is cases like Mr. Pecore, when we’re able to present the picture one year later of not the man who was caught in the pillory of his own actions a year-and-a-half ago but somebody who’s actually put action where his heart was and is able to present to the court, well on the way to rehabilitation,” Lewandowski said.

“We see a youngish man…in the midst of rebuilding. We see a bright man. We see a dedicated man. I say we see an honest man on the stand who doesn’t mince his words with regard to his own human failings,” he said. “What we see is a glimmer of hope.”

Crown Attorney Matthew Collins suggested a sentence of three years in prison was about “balance”, suggesting case law would lean toward a four year sentence but the Crown was giving credit for an early plea, Pecore’s cooperation with authorities, his remorse and the “significant things” he has done at the treatment center.

But Collins said there were six aggravating factors, including Pecore’s plan to target small mom-and-pop businesses to feed his drug addiction and that he had previous court conditions regarding theft and assault.

“Where you have seven occasions where people are targeted…businesses in the middle of the night, staffed by one or two people at the most, some of them female, they’re easy targets and that notion of vulnerability is an aggravating factor above everything else,” Collins said.

Collins suggested the prison sentence should send a general message to the public that offences like this will not be tolerated.

Judge McPhee will deliver his sentence tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon.