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Sentence reduced in pharmacy robberies

The Alberta Court of Appeal has reduced to five years in prison an Edmonton man’s original seven-year sentence for two gun-toting robberies at a local pharmacy.

The Alberta Court of Appeal has reduced to five years in prison an Edmonton man’s original seven-year sentence for two gun-toting robberies at a local pharmacy.

The three-judge court ruled the seven-year term imposed on Mohamed Ismail Arafa by Judge Jeanne Burch was outside the range for similar crimes.

Arafa pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery, two counts of using an imitation firearm and one count of uttering a death threat for the two incidents, one of which occurred in late December 2007 and another in January 2008.

At the original sentencing hearing, Crown prosecutor Bill Wister argued for a sentence of between five and seven years. Defence lawyer Brian Hurley countered two or three years would be more appropriate.

Arafa became addicted to the drug after he was first prescribed it following a serious car accident.

During the first robbery Arafa fled with almost 400 Oxycontin tablets; at the second robbery he took 200 tablets and then demanded another drug, Percocet. The clerk didn’t have any, but gave him 750 tablets of Endocet, a similar medication.

While fleeing the first robbery, Arafa told the young female clerk not to call anyone or he would kill her. Her victim impact statement suggested these words resonated, because when she saw him enter during the second robbery she assumed she was going to be killed.

Arafa’s appeal argued Burch overplayed the importance of the victim’s impact statement and did not give enough consideration to the lack of sophistication the robberies displayed.

The Court of Appeal rejected both arguments, instead focusing on whether the sentence fell within the standard range.

“The nub of the appeal is whether the trial judge’s disposition of the cases is so outside the range of sentences customarily imposed for these types of offences such as to be characterized as demonstrably unfit.”

In looking at sentences imposed on an array of similar crimes the Appeal Court said the sentence was simply longer than was needed to punish and rehabilitate Arafa.

“We are not persuaded that it is necessary that the total sentence be seven years in order to accomplish the objectives.”

The pharmacy employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said initially she did not expect the seven-year sentence, however is now stunned it has been reduced.

“I was pleased when it happened and I was surprised it was that long,” she said. “I don’t understand why they would reduce the sentence.”

The woman said the robberies were still very fresh in her mind and it had been difficult to return to work.

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it.”

Burch’s initial sentence gave Arafa two years for the first robbery and three for the second, with an additional year in each robbery for using the imitation firearm.

The Appeal Court lowered it to three years for each robbery that will be served at the same time. They left the other charges as is, at one year each.

The Appeal Court decision also revealed Arafa had attempted to rob a third pharmacy in Edmonton the day before he robbed the pharmacy in St. Albert for the first time. As he ran in with the imitation weapon, the employee picked up the phone and he ran off.

The court left that sentence unchanged at three years concurrent to the other sentence.

Jill McKenzie, a spokesperson for Alberta Justice, said the department is still considering whether to appeal the court’s decision to the Supreme Court.

“At this stage it is still to early to say, we are reviewing it, but it is unlikely we would be appealing the ruling.”

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