Zachary Armitage, 30, is one of two William Head Institution inmates who escaped from the prison in July. He has plead guilty to escape from lawful custody and awaits sentencing in Mountain Institution. (Correctional Service of Canada/Facebook)

Judge ‘bewildered’ that escaped Vancouver Island inmate was in a minimum security prison

Zachary Armitage, 30, pleaded guilty to escape from lawful custody and awaits sentencing

The judge sentencing one of two inmates who escaped from a Metchosin prison over the summer said he was “bewildered” as to what the man – who has a number of other escapes on his record – was doing in a minimum security environment.

Zachary Armitage, 30, appeared by video in the Western Communities Court on Monday, wearing a blue jumpsuit and sitting in a small room at Mountain Institution, a medium security prison in the Fraser Valley. He plead guilty to escape from lawful custody. He is currently serving a sentence of 13 years and 10 months for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.

RELATED: Langford mayor left with questions nearly two months after Metchosin prison escape

Armitage escaped from William Head Institution with fellow inmate James Busch on the evening of July 7, 2019. The two were present for the prison’s 7 p.m. head count, and were discovered missing at 11 p.m. According to submissions from Armitage’s defence attorney, the pair noted that the tide was low that night and made a ‘spontaneous decision’ to escape.

After a search of the property, police were called and helicopters and K9 units were deployed to find the missing prisoners. But the pair wasn’t found for two days. They were re-captured in Esquimalt after commenting on the size of a dog near the Songhees Walkway on the evening of July 9, unknowingly alerting its owner – an off-duty RCMP officer – to their location. The officer called 9-1-1 and the pair were arrested by the Victoria Police Department. Armitage has been in custody at Mountain Institution ever since.

RELATED: Escaped William Head inmates recognized after commenting on off-duty RCMP officer’s dog

“Crown has no information at this time as to what Mr. Armitage and the other prisoner were doing during the time they were at large,” said Crown lawyer Susan Rupertus.

Armitage, who has been in prison for the majority of his life, has six escapes on his record, Rupertus told the court room. He escaped twice as a youth, two more times in 2008, and in 2016 walked away from a healing house in the B.C. Interior.

With known gang affiliations, illicit drug use and a conviction on a violent crime, a Corrections Service Canada analysis had deemed Armitage fit for a medium security institution, but an override was recommended and Armitage was moved to the West Shore minimum security prison in April, 2018.

“I’m perplexed how someone with Mr. Armitage’s background and unlawful escapes still ended up in William Head,” said Judge Roger Cutler. “I’m bewildered that he was in this position. It begs the question, has the system failed him or has he failed the system?”

“Everything I’ve read about him, I’m not sure anyone would be surprised that he walked away,” Cutler added.

RELATED: Metchosin working with William Head to improve communication after prison break

Armitage’s defence attorney said his client was up for parole in September and was feeling the pressure of his potential release.

Armitage himself told the judge that he had good things lined up but “had this fear of getting out and screwing up.”

“When I think about getting out, I get scared,” he said. “Even now, my hands are all clammy. I don’t know, man. … Now I wish I could take it back. I could be out right now. But now I’m here. I’m not the person you read in the paper anymore. I’ve worked really hard to change that.”

The judge did not make a sentencing decision Monday, instead requesting additional information about the override recommendation that put Armitage in the low-security prison.

Escape from lawful custody carries a maximum sentence of 24 months. The judge can decide the sentence is served concurrently or consecutively.

A sentencing date will be fixed on Oct. 17.



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