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Pennell blames abuse as a child for his criminal lifestyle

A man well known for his lengthy criminal past said being sexually abused as a youth is at the heart of his lifelong problems.


Robert Milford Pennell speaks with his lawyer, Shelley Senior, in provincial court in Corner Brook Wednesday morning.

Robert Milford Pennell, 59, has a criminal record that stretches over 15 pages and contains 57 prior convictions.

Most of those past offences are property-related, but there are some involving violence.

He added another 26 property-related offences to that list in provincial court in Corner Brook Wednesday. Pennell had been set to start a 10-day trial on 57 charges he had previously entered not guilty pleas to.

The trial was not needed when he changed his pleas to guilty on nearly half the charges and the remaining charges were withdrawn by Crown prosecutor Brenda Duffy.

The offences were mostly a series of shoplifting incidents — several from three local grocery stores, among other businesses — and accompanying breaches of court orders spanning from August 2014 and March 2015.

Defence lawyer Shelley Senior told the court the pattern of thefts, including stealing from the same store twice in one day and repeatedly entering businesses he has been banned from entering, help paint a picture of a drug-addicted man desperate to find ways to get money for his next fix.

When given the chance to address the court, Pennell — who is addicted to morphine — said he was a victim of repeated sexual assaults as a child in the early 1970s.

Through his lawyer, Pennell gave The Western Star permission to identify him as a victim of child sexual abuse. Senior said Pennell is currently involved with litigation related to the alleged abuse.

“I got addicted to drugs so I wouldn’t have to remember what happened to me,” he told Judge Catherine Allen-Westby. “That’s what got me into stealing.”

Before being sentenced, Pennell said he wanted to apologize to the entire community of Corner Brook for the life he has led.

Duffy asked for an 18-month sentence, followed by a period of probation. She agreed Pennell should get an enhanced credit for time he served in custody last year before being acquitted of an armed robbery charge.

The Crown argued Pennell is getting further away from being able to be rehabilitated from his criminal ways and it is time for the court to take action to protect businesses from having to worry about him entering their premises.

Senior asked for 17 months in prison, minus the time Pennell had served.

Allen-Westby sentenced Pennell to a total of 542 days, minus 380 days of time already served, leaving him another 162 days to serve. She also prohibited him from entering Coleman’s, Dominion or Sobeys grocery stores, along with the two Shoppers Drug Mart locations and Dollarama.

He also stole merchandise from the Target department store, which has since closed.

The judge said it is time the community of Corner Brook be protected from Pennell. She said the courts cannot tolerate the repeated nature of his criminal lifestyle, even if an addiction is at the root of his behaviour.

Pennell is not finished with the courts. There were another 13 offences on the docket in Corner Brook Wednesday, including five counts of fraud under $5,000, three counts each of uttering a forged document and making false documents, and two counts of theft under $5,000.

He has also been charged with armed robbery and possessing a weapon dangerous to the public in relation to a holdup at a gas station convenience store in St. John’s on Oct. 7.

He was already in custody prior to Wednesday’s court appearance in Corner Brook.

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