For more than a year, the embittered husband would sneak in and out of the abandoned farmhouse, stealthily constructing a crude dungeon in which he planned to imprison his estranged wife’s best friend.
Instead it was he who ended up trapped, in a police cell. On Thursday, he was handed a jail sentence of two years less a day.
The judge described Robert Edwin White’s crime as “outrageous” and “horrifying,” causing enormous distress to all involved. But she also noted his previous good character and said she believed his remorse was genuine.
Mr. White, 45, pleaded guilty earlier this month to breaking and entering with intent to commit an indictable offence; a charge of attempted kidnapping was dropped.
“The charge itself is ordinary,” Madam Justice Mary Teresa Devlin told Mr. White, who has been in custody since February.
“What is extraordinary about this case is that Mr. White’s multiple entries to the abandoned home were for the nefarious purpose of constructing a room to confine a specific person.”
Balding and haggard, clad in a black leather jacket and jeans, Mr. White politely thanked Judge Devlin before being led away in handcuffs and leg shackles, as his distraught parents looked on, his mother in tears.
Neither of the two women involved in his scheme – his ex-wife, Patricia Gallagher, and her friend Gwen Armstrong, his target – were in court, although they have attended previously.
The eight months Mr. White has served since his arrest in February will be deducted from his prison term, the maximum that can be served in a provincial institution.
Despite being a first offender, he could have received up to 10 years in a federal penitentiary.
Outlined in an agreed statement of facts, the plan surfaced last November when contractors preparing to demolish the north Pickering farmhouse stumbled across Mr. White’s makeshift windowless dungeon. Access was through a small side building, down two flights of rough stairs.
Behind a reinforced door fashioned from multiple layers of plywood, chains hung from the ceiling and jugs of water were on the floor of the newly painted room.
Durham police were initially mystified, and the plot thickened in January when the farmhouse was set ablaze by an arsonist.
Mr. White was picked up a few weeks later, after police learned that a security guard patrolling nearby had jotted down his licence plate, before the dungeon was discovered.
He was never charged with torching the farmhouse, but detectives swiftly concluded he was planning to abduct Ms. Armstrong, who provided shelter to Ms. Gallagher and her two children, together with financial and emotional support, after the couple’s marriage foundered in 2008.
They have a son and a daughter, now 13 and 11, and after the breakup Mr. White was granted only limited access to them. This he blamed on both his former wife and Ms. Armstrong, court heard.
There was no indication that anyone aside from Mr. White was ever in his dungeon, and it was only when his plans were revealed in court that a horrified Ms. Armstrong learned that she was the intended target.
What might have transpired had he gone through with the scheme remains murky. Police contend he planned to hold Ms. Armstrong to ransom, but Mr. White’s lawyer, Paul Affleck, disputed that.
He had no prior criminal convictions, and a psychological assessment deemed his risk of re-offending to be low. He spent 17 years with the Mormon church, before he was expelled, and for most of his working life, until his marriage fell apart, he was a successful contractor.
He will be on probation for three years after his release, and several other conditions were attached to his sentence, including a proviso that he have no contact with Ms. Gallagher, Ms. Armstrong and a third woman to whom he was briefly married after his union with Ms. Gallagher ended.
Contact with his children must be limited and supervised by court order, the judge said, concluding that the foiled plot has been “ruinous” for everyone involved.
Appearing frail, Mr. White’s parents, Jim and Carol White, listened from a front-row bench as Judge Devlin delivered her sentence. Later they spoke briefly to reporters and described their son as a decent man and devoted father who had made a hideous mistake.
As to why he devised such a sinister plan, they suggested that not all the blame should rest with him.
“It took 15 years and three other people to put him where he is today,” Jim White said. “He didn’t get there by himself.”
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