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These would-be robbers picked the wrong jewelry store

The Gazette The Gazette 31/05/2016 Paul Cherry, Montreal Gazette
Montreal jewellers fend off armed attackers. © YouTube/Montreal Gazette Montreal jewellers fend off armed attackers.

They are the images Richardson François hoped would never surface in public. 

By his own admission, the 31-year-old convicted killer who has close ties to a Montreal street gang had sunk to a new low in his life when, on Jan. 22, 2013, he and an accomplice, Jerry Theodore, walked into a jewelry store in Park Extension with the goal of robbing it. 

What they did not expect was that the owner of the store, Vijay Verma, and his relatives would fight back even though François was armed with a pistol and Theodore was carrying a machete. During the melee that ensued, after François pulled out the pistol, one of Verma’s relatives picked up a tray full of nitric acid — commonly used to clean jewelry — and tossed it in François and Theodore’s faces. The acid left lifelong scars on their faces. François also lost 50 per cent of the vision in one of his eyes. 

“They are not the best moments of (François’s) life,” defence lawyer Neil Demmerle-Shantz said last week during a sentencing hearing after the Montreal Gazette made a request to have access to recordings from security cameras that captured what transpired after François pulled a gun on Verma. Quebec Court Judge Hélène Morin gave the attorney until Monday to come up with a valid legal reason why the evidence, which became public information once it was placed into evidence on Thursday, should be subjected to a publication ban.

The defence lawyer was unable to come up with one and, on Monday, Morin granted the Montreal Gazette and other media access to the video on the condition the faces of the plaintiffs — Verma and his relatives — be blurred out. The condition was based on a request from prosecutor Pascal Dostaler to protect the identities of the people who were inside Verma’s jewelry store when it was robbed but also the identities of the victims of another jewelry store François robbed in Laval on Oct. 19, 2012. The media were granted access to videos recorded by security cameras in the Laval case as well.  

François is being sentenced for both robberies and for having been part of an assault on a fellow detainee who was beaten by at least seven men at the Rivières-des-Prairies Detention Centre in 2014. 

François testified at length before Morin about what motived him to carry out the two robberies. During the one in Laval, François and an accomplice who has yet to be identified, were captured on a security camera posing as regular customers. As he would later do during the attempted heist in Park Extension, François pretended to be interested in items in the store’s display cases. In the Laval robbery, he suddenly reached out and grabbed the arms of the man who had been serving him while the accomplice headed to a back room. The accomplice threatened a woman in the backroom with a machete, forced her to the floor and tied her hands behind her back. François then forced the man into the back room, ordering him to lie next to the woman and also tied his hands behind his back. 

Security cameras recorded as François and his accomplice emptied the store’s display cases and a vault. It appeared François and Theodore planned to do the same inside Verma’s store. The tables turned suddenly when Verma somehow disarmed François of his pistol and Verma’s relatives emerged from a back room to help him fend off the robbers. 

“It was me who brought on this situation,” François told Morin last week. “(Verma and his relatives) were defending themselves.” 

François then laid out a chronology of the months leading up to the robbery in Laval. He said that six months before he had been released from a federal penitentiary where he had served a two-year prison term for manslaughter. It was part of an overall 10-year sentence he received for having killed Érick Bayana Kabanga inside an apartment on Sherbrooke St. on Jan. 26, 2006. A fight between two groups of men over a stolen television set had broken out inside the apartment and François and two other men were called in to support one of the groups. François showed up armed and he and another man fired shots toward Kabanga, who was wearing a mask and holding a pit bull on a leash. An autopsy later revealed François did not fire the fatal shot. 

François said his longtime girlfriend decided to dump him before the sentence came to an end and that he was having difficulty earning a certificate as an apprentice in construction because no employer would hire him to fulfill the minimum hours required. 

François told Morin that he slipped into a depression after his release and used large amounts of cocaine to treat it. The goal of both robberies, François said, was to deal with debts he created through his heavy drug use. 

Sentence arguments in François’s case are scheduled to resume on June 7. 

On Jan. 15, 2014, Theodore, now 35, pleaded guilty to armed robbery, assault and a couple of other charges related to the robbery in Park Extension. He later received an overall prison term of seven years as his sentence. 

pcherry@postmedia.com

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