A woman who set fire to her own house twice was found to have been insane at the time.
Justice Charles Quin delivered a “special verdict” of not guilty against the defendant after reviewing evidence that she required treatment “because she has serious mental illness or mental impairment and also was in this state of mind at the time this offense was committed.”
Therefore, he continued, she was “not responsible according to law for her actions at the time when the act was done … but was insane, as aforesaid, at the time.”
Justice Quin delivered his judgment on Dec. 22, but full reasons were not released until Dec. 28.
The woman was accused of setting fire to her own house twice, on Aug. 9, 2013 and again on Oct. 7, 2013, and by doing so was reckless as to whether the life of another would be endangered.
A third count related to another house in front of hers, also on the October date. There were in fact three other houses on the property. Senior Crown counsel Nicole Petit explained that the direction of the wind meant that other houses were threatened and people could have been in danger.
The first incident occurred in the morning. At 11:22 a.m., a neighbor reported seeing smoke coming from the woman’s house, which had five bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms. Police and the fire brigade responded quickly, arriving at 11:30 a.m. and extinguishing the fire.
That same day the woman made a statement after being cautioned. She admitted setting fire to her house, explaining that she was going through some emotional problems. She said she was hearing things in the air conditioning and in the ceiling fan.
The defendant also told police she thought her husband wanted to kill her and she thought her house was evil. Fortunately, on this occasion, there was very little damage, Justice Quin summarized.
On Oct. 7, around 4 p.m., the defendant was seen aiming a pink can at the bottom of the door of her house and shortly afterward flames and smoke were observed. She was then seen squirting a stream of liquid in through a front window of the house.
Once again, the fire brigade arrived shortly after the fire started, but this time the roof of the main house was severely damaged, the judge said.
On Oct. 10, she was interviewed and said she had no knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the fire. She was formally charged and when cautioned replied, “No utterance.”
Defense attorney John Furniss first appeared for her in court. He said the defendant’s fitness to plead was an issue and a mental health report was requested. The woman pleaded not guilty in November 2013 and trial was set for July 2014, with a psychiatric report ordered. On that date, the defendant pleaded guilty. Sentencing was adjourned pending further mental health reports.
Meanwhile, she had been granted bail with strict conditions that included taking prescribed medication under the observation of her son, staying away from the scene of the arson, and continue seeing a psychiatrist.
A report from Dr. Arline McGill in September 2014 confirmed that the woman had neurological illnesses with signs of chronic depression and amnesia.
In November 2014, Mr. Furniss advised the court that the defendant wished to change her plea to not guilty. He suggested that it might be advisable for her to speak to another attorney regarding her change of plea.
Attorney Steve McField appeared for the defendant in March 2015. The case continued to be mentioned numerous times until a hearing in September 2015.
A social inquiry report revealed that the traumatic deaths of the woman’s two brothers, along with a past abusive marriage, had taken a toll on her emotionally and on her ability to function normally.
Dr. Marc Lockhart told the court that at the time of offending, the woman was “automatizing” – that is, acting involuntarily and lacking a guilty state of mind. He gave his view that she was not capable of fully engaging in a trial because she would not be helpful in remembering all the things necessary to put forward her defense, nor would she be able to challenge witnesses.
Justice Quin accepted that the defendant did not have the necessary state of mind at the time of the offenses. Under the Criminal Procedure Code, he invoked his power to record a special verdict of not guilty. With that verdict, he entered an order under the Mental Health Law for assisted outpatient treatment for one year.