Half jail, probation for arson

Shaneeke Julanie Wellington, 19, was sentenced last week to three years imprisonment after pleading guilty to a charge of arson. 

Justice Charles Quin suspended 18 months of her sentence with conditions that included participation in an anger management course. 

The seriousness of her crime was the risk of danger to other people, he pointed out. 

“An act of arson, done out of spite or resentment against a particular person can endanger the life and property of not only the targeted person, but also the lives and property of many others – neighbours, the fire service officers and all that have a duty to respond to a fire,” Justice Quin said. “It is for this reason that deterrent sentences must be passed,” he emphasised. 

In this case, Wellington’s target was a man described variously as her husband and her common-law husband. Defence attorney Morris Garcia said the couple did undergo a ceremony, but there was a question as to its legality. 

Crown Counsel Michael Snape said it was obvious the couple had been in a relationship for some time, but it was turbulent and of an “on and off again nature.” 

Justice Quin summarised the facts in his sentence ruling. The couple went to a dance party on Saturday night, 16 June, 2012, then to another venue and on to Wellington’s house. Around 2am the man decided to leave because he did not want Wellington’s mother to find him there. 

Prior to leaving, he had received an invitation by phone to join friends at the park in Windsor Park. The couple walked in that direction, but his breathing became laboured and he took a ride with his cousin on a bicycle while Wellington continued walking. Once at the park, he decided to go with friends to the gas station to get cigarettes, so he left his house keys with a friend to give to Wellington when she arrived. 

When the complainant returned to the park, he said, Wellington demanded to know where he had been and who he had been cheating with. 

Wellington’s own account was that she did confront him and when he was reluctant to answer, she slapped him in the face and he in turn punched her. She said she was knocked to the ground. 

Wellington told police later she had been annoyed and therefore, after the altercation in the park, she went to the complainant’s bedroom, which he had built onto the back of his father’s house. She said she went to collect her belongings, but was still angry because she believed he was cheating on her. 

She poured a bottle of rum onto his bed, got four pieces of toilet paper, set fire to them and placed them on the bed. She then left and closed the door behind her. When she got home about 20 minutes later, she sent the complainant a phone message that the house might be on fire. Meanwhile, the complainant had walked home, smelled smoke and then saw flames inside his room. He could not douse them and 911 was called. The fire brigade responded at 3.20am and put the fire out. 

Previous reports indicated that four tenants in the main part of the house had to vacate the premises, leaving valuable things behind. The fire caused $85,000 damage. Mr. Garcia said substantive costs to restore the house to its previous condition were paid by insurance. 

Mr. Snape and Mr. Garcia agreed that when police spoke to Wellington the night of the fire, she gave a full account of what she had done. She said she wished the complainant had been in the room. 

Mr. Garcia suggested there were times when people hide their stress and frustration behind meaningless words. He noted that a social inquiry report referred to the fact that Wellington kept smiling during her interview, as if she did not appreciate the seriousness of the situation. “She smiles to hide deep emotional scars,” he told the court. 

The defence attorney emphasised that Wellington had no previous convictions and there was no evidence to show any predilection for setting fires to premises or for any other crime of violence. 

Wellington pleaded guilty on 6 July, 2012, to one count of arson: damaging the house by fire and intending to damage or destroy it or being reckless as to whether it would be damaged or destroyed and intending by the destruction to endanger the life of another of being reckless as to whether the life of another would be endangered. 

Justice Quin said last week that the delay in sentencing was primarily due to the significant delay in receiving the psychiatric report first ordered on 17 August, 2012. 

The psychiatrist’s report commented on Wellington’s relationship with the complainant. It included the opinion that the defendant had no history of psychiatric disorder or significant 
medical problems. 

Putting all of the facts and reports together, the judge said he could not ignore Wellington’s responses to her act of arson. In addition to her comments about the complainant, she had told police she knew that some of the occupants of the adjoining side of the house would be inside, but she did nothing to warn them of the possible danger. 

She also told the probation officer she was upset that she had lost control of herself and she expressed concern that others might be upset with her. Justice Quin said these statements to the officer did not constitute remorse or personal horror at her act. 

Based on case law cited to him, he put the starting point for sentence at four and a half years, but gave her a one-third discount for her guilty plea at first opportunity. 

With the sentence at three years, he suspended 18 months on condition that Wellington take part in an anger management group and an interpersonal relationship programme, both run by the Department of Community Rehabilitation. She is also to perform 60 hours of community service. 

The judge warned that if she committed any further criminal offence during the suspended portion of her sentence, she would be liable to an immediate further term of 18 months. 

Cayman Islands Courthouse

The Law Courts Building in downtown George Town. – Photo: File
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