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'What if' questions still haunt family as man sentenced to prison for 2018 robbery

There was a police presence in Plymouth, Yarmouth County, the morning of Sept. 13 as the RCMP conducted an investigation into a reported robbery, and canvassed the area for information and clues. CONTRIBUTED
There was a police presence in Plymouth, Yarmouth County, the morning of Sept. 13, 2018 as the RCMP conducted an investigation into a reported robbery, and canvassed the area for information and clues. CONTRIBUTED

Man sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison after guilty pleas

YARMOUTH, N.S. —

As Mary Duffus read her family’s victim impact statement to the court – describing the day a year ago when her husband Jack was robbed at their Yarmouth County home ­­– she got especially emotional when she read this: “Here is a man who, by his own hands, built our home over 40 years ago – one of his most cherished achievements in life.”

After all, everyone deserves to feel safe at home.

Tyler John Rawcliffe was one of three people who took that away from the family on Sept. 13, 2018. He was sentenced in Yarmouth provincial court on Sept. 10 and received a sentence of seven-and-a-half years in prison.

Rawcliffe, 36, had earlier pled guilty to robbery; break and enter; unlawful confinement and wearing a disguise while committing an indictable offence. He has been in custody on remand for a year. People are given time-and-a-half credit for pre-trial custody, meaning 18 months was subtracted from the sentence, leaving 72 months to be served. Of course, eventually he will also be eligible to apply for parole. Prisoners are able to do so after serving two-thirds of their sentence.

Sept. 13, 2018, should have been a normal day at the family’s home in Plymouth, Yarmouth County. The 77-year-old homeowner should have been able to walk across his property as he always did. What he didn’t know was there were two men dressed in black, their faces covered. They were hiding. They were watching.

The court was told Rawcliffe stepped out first and grabbed the homeowner. There was a struggle. The elderly man was choked and his mouth was covered. A second man, Craig Andrew Pike, grabbed the man by his feet. Pike has also entered guilty pleas. He will be sentenced Sept. 16.

During the robbery the men kept whispering in low tones, causing the homeowner to fear for his wife’s safety. The two men made him take them to where money was kept. They knew where the money was because they had been told so by Lacey Heroux, a friend of the family and Pike’s girlfriend at the time. For her involvement and planning in this incident, Heroux was sentenced to four years in prison in February after pleading guilty to conspiracy. The family felt especially betrayed. Heroux’s grandfather had been the victim’s best friend.

After the men got the money they made the homeowner drive them to a dirt road in his van. They then threw his keys away and disposed of his cellphone. The pair contacted Heroux to pick them up and later burned the clothing they had been wearing.

Duffus retrieved his keys and drove home. The police were called. There was also a brief hold and secure put in place at the nearby Plymouth elementary school as it was not known where the suspects were.

An RCMP vehicle was parked outside Plymouth elementary school mid-morning on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. after a secure and hold in the area had been lifted due to an investigation of a reported robbery in the area. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
An RCMP vehicle was parked outside Plymouth elementary school mid-morning on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. after a secure and hold in the area had been lifted due to an investigation of a reported robbery in the area. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

Through their investigation the RCMP did identify suspects in the case. The next day Pike was arrested at a residence on Prince Street in Yarmouth. Rawcliffe was arrested at a residence in Digby.

Crown attorney Alonzo Wright noted that Rawcliffe had a similar, albeit dated, offence from Ontario dating back to the early 2000s. He does not have an extensive criminal record.

Rawcliffe’s lawyer said the motive in this case was to get money for drugs. At the time of Pike’s arrest, the Crown said he had 13 grams of cocaine powder in his possession.

“These were two individuals who were driven to a set of circumstances directly related to involvement in drugs,” defence lawyer Michael Power said, calling it a prime example of the insidious nature of drugs. He said his client had been approached to help with the robbery and it was only about money. The homeowner had not been singled out as a person they wanted to harm – but their actions did inflict trauma on him, the lawyer acknowledged.

“The plan was that there would be nobody home and unfortunately as these things sometimes go there was an ad-hoc decision to go ahead anyway,” Power said.

Power said for 14 years his client had no involvement with drugs. Two months before the robbery he was in a relationship, was supporting two children, and was looking to enter a welding program at NSCC. And then things took a turn.

“There was a break up… He then fell in with three other individuals who had involvement in drugs,” the lawyer said. “In about a month and a half he went from domestic tranquility and a contributing member of society, to the charges that are before the court. All of this over drugs.”

While in custody Rawcliffe his lawyer said he has gotten his Grade 12 equivalency and has pursued anger management and substance abuse programs.

Rawcliffe spoke during his sentencing, reading from notes he had prepared.

“I am extremely sorry to Mr. Duffus and his family. I hate that I allowed my life to fall into a place where this crime was even possible. I pray every day that the fear that I instilled might be taken away and that the hurt that I inflicted on them might one day heal,” he said. “There’s nothing I can say or do to ever take back or fix what I’ve done, and I don’t ever expect forgiveness. The only thing I can do now is ensure that I use my time to better myself and become a productive member of society when I am released. I’m never going to allow myself to fall back in that pattern again.”

“I’m sorry,” he said to the judge. Then he turned to the victim’s family members seated in the court and told them, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” 

For the family, they are still haunted by the ‘what ifs” of Sept. 13, 2018 following “such a horrid invasion of privacy,” their victim impact statement said.

What if the couple’s grandchildren had been there? What if injuries had been more severe, or worse? What if? What if? What if?

“Forty years of comfort in our own home was taken away, only to be replaced with flashbacks and knotted stomachs,” the victim's wife told the court. “Thoughts of being watched as we sat outside in broad daylight…brings us the knowledge that daylight or darkness, no one is safe.”

"I am not sure how long it takes to heal from such an ordeal," she continued. "But one day at a time is all we take."

“I can’t help but wonder how Tyler would feel if this happened to someone he loved,” she said about Rawcliffe. “Attacking, robbing, kidnapping any human being is unacceptable.”

The sentence was a joint recommendation accepted by Judge Tim Landry. He said the impact of this crime on the family is understandable.

“Attacks like this are always serious but it comes with a higher level of seriousness if it happens in or around your home,” he said. “The emotional scars are many times far greater than the physical scars, because that’s where you are supposed to feel safe.”

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