A troubled young St. John's woman was sentenced Wednesday to just enough time for her to qualify for medical treatment in the federal prison system.

Camille Strickland-Murphy, 19, was sentenced for robbing a woman outside a Churchill Square bank while holding a knife to her throat. She also forged a prescription and stole a car.

Until this year, Strickland-Murphy had not been in trouble with the law, but has had serious mental health issues, including panic attacks and anxiety that she self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. The scars and marks on her face are self-inflicted.

"Right now, she is just living moment to moment. Day to day," said Peter Ralph, the defence lawyer who — with the blessing of Strickland-Murphy's family — asked the court for a sentence long enough to qualify for federal time.

Ralph was concerned that if his client received a sentence under two years, she would serve her sentence provincially and thus would have her medications removed. That had already happened while she was being held in custody.


Lawyer Peter Ralph: 'The experience of mental illness — I think it is torture.' (CBC)

Judge Pamela Goulding sentenced Strickland-Murphy to two years, as well as 90 days that have already been served for breaching an earlier court order.

[MORE: Read  the full text of Goulding's decision here.]

The Crown had asked for a sentence of three years.

'I hope she will find her way'

A psychiatrist had testified that it's amazing that Strickland-Murphy had never broken the law until now, and that she must have some underlying strength in her personality.

Ralph said her family, which had reported her to the police, is hopeful that Strickland-Murphy can recover.

"She is a very intelligent woman," Ralph said outside the sentencing.

"I hope that she will find her way, and be a contributing member of society. Right now she has many challenges."

In sentencing Strickland-Murphy, the judge noted her youth, the significant mental health issues, which contributed to the offences, her prospects for rehabilitation and her extremely supportive family.

Three years of probation

Upon release, Strickland-Murphy will be on probation for three years, which will provide oversight during her recovery.

"The experience of mental illness — I think it is torture," Ralph said.

"Especially at its most acute phase, the desire to avoid that experience or get out of that experience is quite desperate. So she clearly wants to get better and to recover."

The victim in the Churchill Square robbery, a woman in her late 50s who walks with a cane, told the court she now feels more vulnerable and has cut down on her activities since she was assaulted.

With files from Glenn Payette