Having fled the bombs and bullets of war-torn Vietnam, Le Tran Ho could hardly have imagined, decades later, she would feel so threatened in what she assumed was her safe, permanent home.
Ho, the owner of B&L Jewellers, was assaulted in a violent robbery February 1 of last year when Wallace Piercey entered the First Avenue shop in St. Thomas and asked her to show him engagement rings. Ho remembered Piercey, who had visited the shop a week previous.
Without provocation, Piercey rained punches down on 55-year-old Ho, bound her and dragged her to a back room and then attempted to do the same to a customer who had entered the store.
The gratuitous violence was a mitigating factor in the seven-year prison term handed Piercey on Thursday afternoon at the Elgin County Courthouse. Ontario Court Justice Wayne Rabley reduced the sentence to five years when time served was factored in.
Rabley stressed a deterrent must be a significant factor in sentencing, but added “rehabilitation must not be abandoned,” and noted Piercey’s sincere expression of remorse.
Assistant Crown attorney Lisa Defoe had sought a sentence in the range of eight to ten years on the charges of robbery, assault causing bodily harm and forcible confinement.
“The two victims “suffered absolute terror,” said Defoe, in what was simply gratuitous violence.
Sections of store security video were shown where Piercey, 44 of London, can be seen punching Ho in the face and then leaping over the counter and continuing to punch her violently.
He dragged her to the back of the shop, bound her hands with plastic ties taken from his purple hoodie and then taped her ankles together with duct tape.
When Ho yelled out for help, Piercey taped her head and mouth.
At this point a customer, Ruth Grice, entered the store, noticed blood on the floor and heard the owner’s cries for help.
Grabbing Grice by the hair and arms Piercey forced her to the back of the store, by which time Ho had managed to hop to the back door and open it.
Piercey hauled Ho back inside, allowing Grice time to flee out the front door and enter a neighbouring business to call police.
Desperate at this point, Piercey grabbed five trays of jewelry and escaped through the back door.
Police were able to retrieve some of the jewelry outside the shop.
While the video was playing, Piercey removed his glasses, put his head in his hands and appeared to be sobbing.
Ho required stitches to close a cut to her mouth, had cuts to her hands and scrapes and bruising to her knees.
Grice was treated at the scene but later attended a clinic for “anxiety and shock.”
Piercey’s lawyer, Aaron Prevost, who called for a five-year prison term, told Rabley his client had a troubled childhood who admitted he had been “a difficult child”
The third of four children, Piercey left home and began couch surfing at age 16.
Prevost noted his parents were in court Thursday to support their son, and added “my client has wanted to resolve this by pleading guilty.”
He conceded Piercey did have “serious substance abuse issues” and was high on crystal meth the day of the robbery.
“He is ashamed to be sitting here today . . . and he is repairing his relationship with his parents.”
And, stressed Prevost, he is employable. “He became a carpenter and is in the union.”
He was in a significant relationship for 16 years and has two adult children.
Although neither victim attended court, their victim statements were read by Dafoe.
Ho wrote “I cannot feel safe opening the store. I cannot be alone in the store. I don’t feel safe even in my home.”
Ho indicated she still suffers from her injuries.
“I have stiff wrists, my jaws ache when I chew food. I have lost weight and I feel stress. I fear he will come to the store again and seek out my family.”
When Dafoe read Ho’s account of fleeing Vietnam, Piercey shouted out “We get the point. Enough already.”
“I worked long hours to get the business to where it is today. I will never be the same.”
In her statement, Grice wrote “It is difficult to perform day-to-day tasks. I’m nervous going out. Sudden movements give me moments of fear.”
For his part, Piercey said in a quiet voice “I stand here today ashamed. I offer you no excuses. I pray the victims can forgive me.
“My parents taught me to take responsibility for my actions. I plead guilty so as not to put the victims through that.”
Piercey previously had five convictions for theft and another three for assault, what Rabley referenced as aggravating factors, along with the violent nature of the robbery and the fact Piercey has not taken advantage of any community support or completed any treatment.
Acknowledging the support of his parents, Rabley cautioned “It will take some time to start the process in a meaningful way.”