June 17, 2016 - 4:30 PM
KAMLOOPS - Two men accused of a violent robbery in a Kamloops motel room have retracted their original pleas and have pleaded guilty after hearing witness testimony in a Kamloops courtroom.
Dustin Braaten and Corey Santoro pleaded not guilty yesterday, June 16, to charges including break and enter and robbery but changed their pleas shortly after Alicia Pala took the stand to describe how scared she was during the incident.
Pala and her boyfriend Abhishek Chandra were living at the Columbia Motor Inn last year, she said. They had moved to Kamloops from Vancouver after Pala got pregnant. Pala said they wanted to raise their child in a better place. On Oct. 17, Braaten and Santoro busted through Chandra and Pala's front door with a metal baseball bat, demanding their cell phones and other property. Court heard one of the men then asked Pala to go across the street to get him cigarettes.
She grabbed her shoes and ran to the motel manager's office. They waited for Chandra to come down and the three of them called 911.
Police arrived and arrested both men. Braaten has been in custody since. Santoro was later released on bail.
Last month when the trial was set to begin, Chandra and Pala got one glimpse of the accused and fled the city to Vancouver out of fear for their six-month-old daughter.
Warrants were issued for them, and they returned yesterday to testify. Pala testified in front of both accused and Chandra was supposed to do the same. But defence lawyer Jeremy Jensen told the court it was too hard for Braaten to see the victims. He felt bad Pala was pregnant at the time of the incident, and wanted to step up and do the right thing.
Braaten was sentenced to 30 months behind bars on top of the 12 months he's been credited for serving. Santoro is expected to be sentenced in the fall.
Braaten said he hopes his time behind bars does some good for his life.
"Hopefully I can get in some good programs and stay away from drugs," Braaten said.
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