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Halloween bandit gets house arrest

The man who robbed the Westlock Esso last Halloween will serve two years less one day under house arrest and then and be subject to strict probation conditions for another two years.

The man who robbed the Westlock Esso last Halloween will serve two years less one day under house arrest and then and be subject to strict probation conditions for another two years.

Michael Thomas Murchie, 23, was sentenced for the Halloween incident, as well as an assortment of other minor charges from unrelated incidents, in Westlock Provincial Court Wednesday.

Murchie, who suffers from mental health and addictions issues, will be under house arrest for the first two years, then subject to probation and a curfew for the next two years. During that time he will be required to take counselling and treatment as required by his probation officer and to actively engage with mental health services in Westlock.

“I’m effectively putting Mr. Murchie under control as best we can for four years,” said Judge Norman Mackie.

The two-year sentence was essentially imposed as a global sentence to cover convictions on robbery, possession of stolen property, mischief, fraud under $5,000 and three counts of failing to appear in court.

Murchie was arrested Oct. 31, 2010 after he robbed the Westlock Esso, threatening the clerk with a weapon.

“He told her to put the money in the bag or he would shoot her,” Crown prosecutor Trent Wilson said.

Murchie, who walks with the aid of a walker, then made his way across the street and hid under some bushes in a yard near the Movie Gallery. He was arrested for armed robbery, but the charge was later reduced to robbery.

The experience was a very traumatic one for the clerk involved, according to a victim impact statement she submitted.

“I’d just like to say I’m very remorseful,” Murchie said.

Wilson suggested a sentence of two years in a federal prison, given the serious nature of the crime and the vulnerability of the clerk he robbed.

While he acknowledged Murchie suffers from physical and mental health issues, he said helping Murchie needs to be balanced with the protection of the public. He described the robbery as a “calculated risk” on Murchie’s part — one that requires severe punishment.

“The public needs to know if you take this kind of a calculated risk, there will be serious consequences,” Wilson said.

Defence lawyer Bruce Lennon told court federal prison would be too harsh a sentence, given Murchie’s circumstances.

“It’s a situation where he was using a walker to try to escape,” he said.

Mackie ultimately ruled in favour of a more lenient sentence than federal prison, allowing Murchie to serve his sentence in the community.

Murchie spent a total five months and one week in pre-sentence custody, which Mackie said he took into consideration in his sentencing.

He entered an early guilty plea, but spent as long as he did in custody because there were some problems getting a psychological assessment. Several court orders to have him transferred to Alberta Hospital went unheeded, and in the end he spent the whole time in the Edmonton Remand Centre.

Mackie lamented during sentencing that he had trouble getting all the information relating to the case in a timely manner — for example, he said he did not know about Murchie’s prior criminal record or outstanding warrants in B.C. until Wednesday.

“It seems I am the last one to know the facts,” he said.

Although Mackie expressed some degree of sympathy for Murchie’s situation, he suggested that ultimately, Murchie was capable of making the decisions that eventually lead to his arrest.

“He’s partially the master of his own misfortune,” he said. “He put himself in a drug-addled state. He had a choice whether to get into that or not.”

Among the strict conditions of his house arrest, Murchie will have to stay in his home except for a few hours each week to shop for necessities, won’t be allowed visitors from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., and must abstain from alcohol and intoxicating drugs.

Murchie was also given a 10-year firearms prohibition, was ordered to provide a DNA sample to the RCMP, was sentenced to perform 100 hours of community service and was fined $50 on a petty trespassing charge.

As Mackie slowly read out the lengthy list of conditions associated with the house arrest and subsequent probation, Murchie occasionally replied with “Yes, sir.”

At one point, he replied, “Sounds like a plan, Stan.”

“I’m not Stan, and I’m not finished yet,” Mackie replied. “I’m not finished and I can still change my mind, so don’t get too comfortable over there.”