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Illness kept fire victim home, son tells trial

Ashtyn Franklin James Richard is seen being interviewed by an investigator shortly after a fatal fire in  April 2012.

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Ashtyn Franklin James Richard is seen being interviewed by an investigator shortly after a fatal fire in April 2012. (COURT VIDEO)

The night he perished in a fire at his house, Robert Long wasn’t feeling well and planned to have a quiet night at home.

If it wasn’t for the fact he wasn’t feeling good, he likely would have been out having coffee with friends at the time of the fire.

On Tuesday, Long’s son took the stand at the trial of the man accused of setting the deadly blaze, and described the phone call he had with his dad mere hours before his death.

"The last thing he said is, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to make myself a bite to eat and I’m going to take a bath and go to bed,’" said Robert Edward Long, who has the same name as his dad.

Ashtyn Franklin James Richard, 22, is on trial this week after previously pleading not guilty to manslaughter and arson with disregard for human life.

The elder Long, 75, was killed in an early-morning fire on April 4, 2012. Firefighters were called to a blaze at his home on the 200-block of First Street around 3 a.m.

Long’s body was found lying beside the bathtub among charred debris in the second-floor washroom.

Richard’s trial in Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench began on Tuesday with testimony from the medical examiner.

The doctor determined Long died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide exposure.

Crown attorney Jim Ross asked if Long would have suffered, but the medical examiner said the senior would have passed out from the carbon monoxide and was likely dead before he would have burned.

Long’s son testified that he was very close to his father, who had worked as a janitor or cleaner for years. His father would stay up all night and sleep all day, and continued that pattern even after he retired.

His father would go for coffee with friends late in the evening and return home early in the morning. He wouldn’t usually be home at the time of the fire, but that night he wasn’t feeling well.

"He just said his legs were bothering him, that’s why he didn’t go out for coffee that night … If he wasn’t feeling sick that night, he would have been gone," Long said.

A key piece of evidence at trial is a video-recorded statement that Richard made to police following his arrest shortly after the fire.

The statement was ruled admissible during a voir dire in September, and on Tuesday, it was admitted into evidence at trial.

During that statement, Richard initially denied having anything to do with the fire, but then confessed to lighting it.

He said he set a piece of cloth alight, tossed it into the porch of the house where a couch caught fire and he ran.

It appears the house had been picked at random, but the reason the fire was set isn’t clear.

Richard told police that he was "angry and stressed." Prior to the fire, he was drinking and got in an argument with his common-law girlfriend. He’d been asked to leave his father-in-law’s home.

"It’s just like a devil took over or something … I don’t know, it’s like I couldn’t control myself at all … I didn’t mean to kill that person," Richard told officers.

The trial continues today.

» ihitchen@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @IanHitchen

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 21, 2014

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The night he perished in a fire at his house, Robert Long wasn’t feeling well and planned to have a quiet night at home.

If it wasn’t for the fact he wasn’t feeling good, he likely would have been out having coffee with friends at the time of the fire.

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The night he perished in a fire at his house, Robert Long wasn’t feeling well and planned to have a quiet night at home.

If it wasn’t for the fact he wasn’t feeling good, he likely would have been out having coffee with friends at the time of the fire.

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