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This article was published 22/5/2014 (1128 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On the night of the deadly fire, Cierra Houle was curled up with her young daughter and counting the minutes while hoping her boyfriend would soon return.
They’d argued, and her boyfriend, Ashtyn Franklin James Richard, had left the house in the early morning.
When Richard did return, what he said left her stunned — he told her he’d burned down a house.
"He pointed out to where the fire was, and I looked and I’d seen an orange glow above … the buildings and that’s when I was in shock," she said.
Houle delivered the above account on Thursday as she testified in Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench.
Richard, 22, was on trial this week on charges of manslaughter and disregard for human life in connection with an April 4, 2012, early morning blaze that killed 75-year-old Robert Long.
Long’s body was found in a second-floor bathroom of his house on the 200-block of First Street.
Houle outlined the following version of events as she testified about the hours leading up to the fire.
She, Richard, their young daughter and other relatives had travelled from the Sandy Bay First Nation and were staying at the home of Houle’s father on the 500-block of Frederick Street.
Richard, her dad and her brother had been drinking beer during the night of the fire. Richard then accused Houle of cheating, which she denied, and the couple got in an argument.
Houle’s father asked Richard to leave and Richard left around 1 a.m. with the intent to hitchhike back to Sandy Bay.
Houle then lay down with the couple’s little girl, but she couldn’t sleep as she watched the time on her cellphone and hoped Richard would return.
He finally returned around 2 a.m. to 2:30 a.m., Houle said. There was a knock on the window and Houle spoke to Richard there.
Houle said Richard told her he was going to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. Frightened, she met him at the front door to ask him why he would do that.
"Can you hear those cop sirens? They’re coming for me," Houle quoted Richard as saying. "He said that he burned a house down, and I went speechless."
He said he’d ripped his shirt, tied the cloth around some twigs, set it on fire and thrown it toward a house.
Houle said Richard pointed toward the area of the burning home and said: "This is what you and your dad turned me into."
She said she looked up and was shocked to see an orange glow in the sky.
Houle said her father called police after telling Richard to leave her alone. Richard continued to knock on the windows as they waited for officers to arrive.
Richard’s trial began on Tuesday, continued Wednesday and briefly resumed Thursday before it was ended unexpectedly after Houle’s testimony.
Court heard that on Wednesday afternoon, Crown attorney Jim Ross was alerted to the existence of a Brandon Fire and Emergency Services fire report for the first time. He then notified defence lawyer Ryan Fawcett.
Fawcett told Justice John Menzies that had he been aware of the report, he would have conducted his cross-examination of previous witnesses differently.
Fawcett said the report mentioned remnants of a lawn mower and the strong smell of gasoline at the remains of a front porch where the blaze is believed to have begun.
Up to this point in the trial, witnesses testified no accelerants were found at the scene.
Ultimately, the significance of that discovery remains to be seen. Ross noted that the report concludes the fire was set by direct flame contact, not that the lawn mower started it or that an accelerant had been poured.
Fawcett, however, was granted an adjournment so he could determine whether he needs to seek an expert. He also has the option of having witnesses recalled.
The case has been put to June 16.
The Crown has yet to finish calling witnesses, and the defence has yet to make its case.
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