VANCOUVER - A 33-year-old convicted arsonist with a long criminal past has been sentenced to almost 12 years in prison for dousing a Vancouver home with gasoline and lighting it on fire, killing two men inside.
Theodore Wells was convicted of one count of arson and two counts of manslaughter this past summer for the 1999 offences that occurred across the street from John Oliver secondary school, located in east Vancouver.
Alexander Conto, the homeowner, and Nicholas Cortner, the tenant, were unable to escape the flames and died from smoke inhalation.
"There is no evidence that Mr. Wells knew that persons were in the house or that if he did, he thought they would be unable to escape, but clearly that was a chance he was willing to take and a chance that he did take," said B.C. Supreme Court Justice Arne Silverman in a ruling posted online Monday.
"Two men died as a result."
Silverman said Wells didn't plan the arson, but he carried it out, and while it's not clear what the motive was, the judge said Wells was likely trying to gain some personal benefit, like money, or the repayment of a "debt of some kind."
Nobody was charged after the initial investigation into the fire, but authorities reopened their investigation in 2009 after Crime Stoppers received a number of tips.
In his written judgment, Silverman cited the need to denounce the crime and deter others by sentencing Wells to 11 years and 10 months behind bars.
He also prohibited Wells from owning firearms for life and ordered him to submit a DNA sample to authorities.
The Crown asked Silverman to impose a 12- to 18-year-prison sentence, but the defence asked for seven to 10 years.
Noting the seriousness and violence of the crimes, Silverman only shaved six months off the sentence because of Wells' aboriginal background.
According to the court document, Wells had a "tragic" upbringing, was the victim of "neglect, violence and abuse" and while a boy, was taught by his stepfather to "lie, cheat and steal."
His mother was a chronic substance abuser who would leave her son, adds the document.
"There is some suggestion, although no formal medical opinion, that Mr. Wells may have been an infant afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome which continues to impact his behaviour," said Silverman.
"By his late teens and early 20s he was fully engulfed in crime with a number of others of similar age who supported themselves primarily by committing breaking and enterings, some of them involving home invasions, many of those involving marijuana grow operations," said Silverman.
"He was also involved in selling drugs."
Wells was sentenced in 2004 to four years and nine months in prison for breaking and entering and forcible confinement, and was given two years and in 2009 for assault causing bodily harm.
Wells has remained in custody since 2009, but Silverman noted he has completed 50 sessions of an aboriginal healing program.
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