WAILUKU - Saying the crimes were cruel and callous, a judge Friday sentenced a Kihei man to a 10-year prison term for the armed robberies of gas stations in Kahului and Kihei last year.
"You have a long history of doing wrong versus right," 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo told Bronson Foster-Benson, 22. "These crimes were of great violence. You could have caused great bodily harm.
"They were cruel. They were callous."
Foster-Benson had pleaded no contest to two reduced counts of second-degree robbery of Port Town Chevron on Kaahumanu Avenue in Kahului and Kihei Chevron on South Kihei Road. The early-morning robberies occurred about an hour apart Nov. 13.
Foster-Benson was identified as the gunman who went into the businesses carrying what turned out to be an airsoft gun, while co-defendant Namon Kalani Parks, 32, of Waianae, Oahu, acted as a lookout.
Foster-Benson and Parks were trying to get money to flee the island after the two had been arrested a couple of weeks earlier in an investigation of criminal property damage, said Deputy Public Defender William "Pili" McGrath.
"They were so loaded on drugs they dropped more than half the loot on the street on the way to the car," McGrath said.
He said Foster-Benson "had a tumultuous upbringing," with both of his parents addicted to drugs at one point. While his father remains in prison, Foster-Benson's mother is doing well and attending college on the Mainland, McGrath said.
After already spending nearly 11 months in jail, Foster-Benson said he wants to follow the examples set by his mother and brother and attend college.
"First and foremost, I'd like to apologize to all my victims," he said in court. "Regardless of the state of mind I was in, it doesn't make up for what I did. I understand it caused some fear and trauma. I didn't mean to hurt nobody."
While the defense asked the judge to consider placing Foster-Benson on probation or sentencing him to a five-year prison term as a young adult offender, Deputy Prosecutor Mark Simonds said the 10-year prison term was warranted.
Foster-Benson also had pleaded no contest to second-degree criminal property damage for going to a friend's house in Kihei on Nov. 1 and using a baseball bat to smash the windows of his friend's Toyota 4Runner, Simonds said.
The night before, Foster-Benson had a dispute with the friend that almost led to a fight in the parking lot of a Wailea bar, Simonds said.
When Foster-Benson began smashing the windows of the vehicle, his friend's mother appeared, Simonds said. He said Foster-Benson went back to the driver's seat of his car while Parks, who was in the passenger seat, displayed a handgun.
"This is in Kihei in broad daylight," Simonds said.
He said Foster-Benson, to his credit, told Parks to put the gun down.
Kihei patrol officers chased the defendants in the car and as they ran, with police recovering a black airsoft pistol. In the area the next day, a 12-year-old girl found a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol that had a round in its chamber, Simonds said.
From that incident, he said Foster-Benson's behavior escalated to brandishing what appeared to be a gun in the two robberies.
Loo said Foster-Benson had been released from a long period of juvenile probation less than a year before the criminal property damage and robberies occurred.
"It really shows to me you didn't learn a lot from being on juvenile probation," Loo told Foster-Benson.
She said Foster-Benson appeared to be "more of the instigator" in the robberies.
"Thank goodness for Maui County you were caught," Loo said.
Foster-Benson was ordered to pay $251 in restitution.
Parks was sentenced last month to a five-year prison term after he had pleaded no contest to two reduced counts of second-degree theft and first-degree terroristic threatening.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.