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Father recruited 17yo son for armed jewellery heist, claims opiate prescription to blame

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Apr 2024, 10:42am

Father recruited 17yo son for armed jewellery heist, claims opiate prescription to blame

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Apr 2024, 10:42am

For 10 years, Julian Gerrard Brown had managed to keep his demons in check.  

But when a workplace injury resulted in a doctor’s prescription for powerful opiate oxycodone, the now 47-year-old West Auckland resident didn’t just fall off the wagon. He plummeted back down a “rabbit hole” of meth addiction and crime that ended with a shameful rock bottom: his 2022 arrest for an armed jewellery store robbery alongside his 17-year-old son, whom he had recruited to assist with the poorly planned heist.  

Brown expressed his shame and regret this week as he appeared in Auckland District Court for sentencing, asking for a term of home detention similar to that given to his now 19-year-old son earlier this year. 

But the father had more to account for than the son, Judge Anna Skellern said as she instead ordered a sentence of imprisonment. 

“You were clearly in charge of the plan,” she told Brown, referring to his influence as a father and his co-defendant’s young age. 

Court documents state Brown and son Savahn Kake targeted a Brownsons Jewellers location inside Meadowbank Shopping Centre in St Johns on the afternoon of July 13, 2022, at a time of the afternoon when the centre would have been bustling with customers on their lunch break. 

As they approached the store, they pulled balaclavas over their faces and Brown pulled an imitation double-barrelled firearm out of a bag. 

Brown shouted and swore as he pointed the imitation firearm at the store manager’s face, while his son smashed at least four glass display cabinets with a hammer and shovelled the high-value contents into a shopping bag, according to the agreed summary of facts. As they were doing so, a 73-year-old bystander tried to thwart the duo’s efforts by pushing a wooden bench in front of the exit. 

“Mr Brown noticed and moved closer to [the woman] and pointed the imitation firearm at her,” documents state. 

“I’ll f***ing shoot you!” he told her. 

The pair made a hasty retreat soon thereafter, pushing aside the bench and running through the shopping centre crowd to the exit as they pushed another bystander to the ground. 

“Stay still or I will f***ing shoot you!” Brown repeated to other members of the public. 

Julian Brown was sentenced to prison for robbing a jewellery store at Meadowbank Shopping Centre in St Johns.Julian Brown was sentenced to prison for robbing a jewellery store at Meadowbank Shopping Centre in St Johns. 

Brown pointed the gun at a bystander a final time after a witness followed them out of the store, where they crossed St Johns Rd en route to their waiting vehicle. At that point unmasked, they turned around after dropping an item and noticed him. 

“I’ll shoot,” Brown said to the man about three times before they drove away. 

Roughly $60,000 worth of merchandise was pilfered, but most of it was either dropped near the scene or recovered after the pair’s arrest. But Brown and his son also managed to cause tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to the business. 

Police announced Brown’s arrest the next day. 

At this week’s sentencing hearing, defence lawyer Jane-Frances O’Halloran asked the judge to look beyond the robbery itself - taking into consideration her client’s hard luck story prior to the incident and what she described as his “significant, whole-hearted” efforts to get back on the wagon since the arrest. 

“The offending was a one-off incident influenced by ... methamphetamine addiction,” O’Halloran said. “Mr Brown had really turned his life around for quite a significant period of time.” 

But then there was the legally prescribed opioid prescription for a workplace injury that served as a “trigger” when it was suddenly cut off, she said. 

“But for that injury, Mr Brown would not be in this situation,” O’Halloran said. “He fell back down that rabbit hole of methamphetamine use.” 

Within five months, he was using the drug on a daily basis again, the court was told. 

O’Halloran described her client turning to his son in a desperate effort to feed his addiction as “a matter of significant remorse for him”. 

He’s shown that remorse in concrete terms, she said, by attending two residential treatment facilities and other counselling programmes. Brown even put off pleading guilty, knowingly risking missing out on a sentence discount, because he was so adamant about continuing his treatment, she said. 

She emphasised that the robbery did not involve a lethal weapon and the hammer was used only as a tool to break the casing - not to threaten others. 

But Crown prosecutor Sophie Vreeburg said the discovery after the fact that the gun wasn’t real would have provided little comfort at the time to the victims who were made to believe their lives were in mortal danger. She argued for a sentence of imprisonment, noting that it was a pre-meditated victimisation of a small business at a busy time of the day when it would have been obvious to Brown that there was a strong potential for terrorising others. 

Judge Skellern agreed that the impact of the gun on the victims - regardless of whether it was real - had a significant impact. People may react in ways that are dangerous to themselves if they think their lives are at risk, she explained. 

“The staff were seriously traumatised by what happened,” the judge added, referring to a written victim impact statement that wasn’t read aloud but had been prepared for his son’s earlier sentencing. 

She noted that he had a long rap sheet - 79 previous convictions as an adult offender - but was able to kick drugs and alcohol in 2010 followed by a 12-year offence-free period of his life. Since the arrest, his efforts to address his addiction have made him “clearly well-regarded” in the recovery community, the judge said, noting that he was joined in the courtroom by supporters from one of the residential rehabilitation programmes. 

“I am willing to accept there is some real remorse from you,” Skellern said. 

But denunciation and deterrence are “very important” for such offending, she determined, ordering a sentence of three years and one month’s imprisonment. 

Aggravated robbery carries a maximum possible sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment. The other charge he pleaded guilty to, presenting a firearm or restricted weapon at a person, is punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment. 

Prosecution of Brown’s son started in Youth Court but was later transferred to the District Court. A judge declined his petition for permanent name suppression, noting the seriousness of the crime and the public’s interest in seeing the outcomes of such cases. 

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand. 

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here. 

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