Mental health issues at root of Osoyoos convenience store robberies

Image Credit: File photo

PENTICTON - A Penticton provincial court judge sympathized with a young man suffering from mental issues after two bungled robbery attempts in Osoyoos.

Twenty-four year old Aaron Paul Hillstad will only spend one day in jail after receiving credit for time served, but will face two years’ probation under a number of strict terms following two robberies at the Osoyoos 7-11 convenience store.

Crown Prosecutor Ann Lerchs said Hillstad entered the store on Nov. 7, 2014, with a scarf around his face, demanding cash. Hillstad kept one hand in his pocket, which to the clerk appeared he had a weapon.

After a verbal exchange with the clerk, Hillstad removed his mask prior to taking a cash drawer with $200 in it. He was found by police and arrested the following day and later released.

On April 9, 2015, Hillstad once again entered the Osoyoos 7-11, in spite of a conditional restriction to stay away from the store. He was recognized from his previous visit,  however was still able to jump over the counter and flee with a package of cigarettes.

Judge Gregory Koturbash heard Hillstad had no previous criminal record, but did have a lengthy history of mental health issues dating back 10 years. Lerchs noted the accused had been admitted into the psychiatric unit eight times and attempted suicide 50 times. Hillstad was also certified under the Mental Health Act as a drug user who suffered from schizophrenia. A mental health exam found him fit to stand trial, noting “significant mental health issues.”

In  a joint submission, both Crown and defence lawyer James Pennington agreed rehabilitation was the primary concern for Hillstad, requesting a probationary term.

Pennington noted the “long standing problem (his client) has been wrestling with,” adding Hillstad needed drugs by injection and needed to get back into the mental health system rather than jail.

Judge Koturbash said Hillstad’s case was a “challenging sentencing,” noting people like him sometimes fell through the cracks.

“Illicit substances and your condition is a recipe for disaster. You must get control and do that for life,” Koturbash said.

Hillstad was given 115 days credit for time served for the charges of robbery, disguising face with intent to commit an offence, and breach of conditions. He faces $600 in victim surcharge fees and a strict two year probation term, that includes staying out of the Osoyoos 7-11.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at sarstad@infonews.ca or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

Editor's Note in response to allegations from Vernon RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara
Editor’s note: • Watch shifts at the Vernon detachment have fallen to as low as three roadable officers. • The department suffers from chronic understaffing. • Sources, who we trust and who have knowledge of the s

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