Did an Edmonton soldier intentionally set a house on fire? Crown, defense offers closing arguments

An Edmonton soldier is charged with three counts of murder and two counts of arson.  Lawyers presented closing arguments during the February 17 trial.  (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada - photo credit)

An Edmonton soldier is charged with three counts of murder and two counts of arson. Lawyers presented closing arguments during the February 17 trial. (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada – photo credit)

A two-week trial for attempted murder and arson ended Friday morning in Edmonton’s Court of King’s Bench, with attorneys offering differing accounts of the July 19, 2015 events.

A 45-year-old Edmonton soldier has been charged with three counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson. She has pleaded not guilty.

She cannot be identified due to a publication ban protecting the identity of her children.

Crown prosecutors claim the woman intentionally set a fire at her home while her children slept – over a custody battle with her ex-husband.

“She decided to kill himself and the kids so he wouldn’t have her,” Crown Attorney Dallas Sopko said in Friday’s closing arguments.

Defense attorney Curtis Steeves said the Crown had not proved this beyond a reasonable doubt.

“There are too many gaps in the evidence,” he told the judge.

Fantasyland Hotel

Shortly before the fire, the woman took her children to stay two nights at the Fantasyland Hotel in West Edmonton Mall.

Sopko said her expenses at the mall — more than $1,100 on the hotel bill, plus hundreds of dollars at shops and restaurants — were unusual for a self-proclaimed budgetist who typically took the family on $25 camping trips.

He said a letter the defendant wrote to a friend on hotel letterhead, beginning with the words, “By the time you get this, I’m either in jail or dead,” speaks for itself.

Enclosed with the letter was $10,000, which the friend later returned.

Courtyard of King's Bench

Courtyard of King’s Bench

Sopko portrayed the letter as a suicide note, which was sent with a “significant parting gift” that was debited from her bank account just prior to the mall’s stay.

Steeves said his client withdrew money because she was planning to buy a house and that the first line of her letter referred to a planned confrontation with her ex, which she believed could have ended in violence.

Both attorneys agreed that the case is circumstantial; There is no direct evidence that the accused set the fire, nor any eyewitnesses.

Fire investigators determined the fire started in the home’s basement and also found two smoke detectors in a bag, along with fire starter and lamp oil.

accounts for children

The woman’s children testified at the trial, and both attorneys said there were contradictions between some of their earlier statements and those made in court.

“Given the way their evidence has changed over time, this court should be extremely skeptical and extremely critical when it comes to them,” Steeves said.

He said the sons’ statements were unreliable and may have been influenced by their father.

Cort Sloan/CBC

Cort Sloan/CBC

Sopko said children may have forgotten or had conflicting stories about a traumatic experience that happened more than seven years ago.

He said the sons testified that they did not start the fire and that there was no evidence the fire was accidental or started by an arsonist who broke into the home.

Sopko said the woman’s evidence defied common sense and lacked credibility, leading only to a logical conclusion.

Steeves said there was no evidence linking the removal of the smoke detectors to the fire that night and that his client on the witness stand was honest.

Judge John Little is expected to make his decision on February 24.


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