Closing arguments made in Edmonton at trial for mother accused of trying to kill her children
WARNING: This article contains disturbing content.
Lawyers for both the Crown and the accused made closing arguments at the Edmonton Law Courts on Friday in a trial for a soldier accused of trying to kill her children.
The accused, whose name cannot be published because of a publication ban meant to protect the identity of the children, is facing charges of attempted murder, intentionally or recklessly causing damage by fire to a property knowing the property was inhabited and intentionally or recklessly causing damage by fire to a property belonging to the Canadian Forces.
The trial is juryless, and a judge will determine the verdict. It began earlier this month and has focused on the night in the summer of 2015 that the accused’s home caught fire with her and her children inside, as well as on her actions in the days leading up to the blaze.
Over the course of the trial, the Crown has argued the mother was motivated to kill herself and her three children because she did not want to comply with a court order giving custody of her children to her ex-husband.
During closing arguments Friday, Dallas Sopko, the lawyer leading the prosecution, told the court he believes the only logical conclusion anyone could come to after seeing the evidence and hearing the testimony of witnesses is that the accused is guilty.
“The accused intentionally started the fire while her children were asleep in the home,” he said, while also recounting testimony from the children suggesting their mother stifled their efforts to alert her to the fire and do something about it.
“She removed the fire detectors.”
Son testifies at trial for mother accused of trying to kill him and his siblings
Sopko also cited a letter written by the accused to a friend before the fire broke out that says “by the time you’re reading this, I’ll either be in jail or dead.” Earlier in the trial, court heard the mother say the letter was written after the fire. Her son previously testified that she asked him to mail the letter the morning before the fire.
Curtis Steeves, the lawyer representing the accused, suggested to the court that if the fire was intentionally set, it is possible someone else set it, something he had brought up previously in the trial. He repeatedly questioned the then 10- and eight-year-old sons whether they started the fire that night.
“You have to decide if the fire was intentionally set, (and) if it was, who set it?” Steeves asked. “If you think it was set by… (my client), what was her mental state at the time?”
He added that if the judge believes his client set the fire but did not intent to try to kill her children, then the accused should be acquitted of attempted murder and found guilty of arson.
Steeves noted there is no eyewitness to offer testimony on seeing someone set the home on fire. He referenced evidence presented during the trial that showed a working smoke alarm had been removed and was later found in the trash. He said his client does not know why or how that happened.
Steeves added that while his client could have reacted more swiftly to the fire, her less-than-optimal response does not equate to her being guilty of arson.
READ MORE: Mother accused of trying to kill her 3 children testifies at trial in Edmonton
Sopko’s closing arguments saw him tell the court he believes the idea that someone else could have started the fire makes no sense, arguing it was unbelieveable that a random arsonist would go around the house removing smoke detectors, including one just outside the bedroom where the mother and her three children were sleeping.
He also noted that the accused’s ex-husband was in Saskatchewan at the time of the fire.
Sopko added that both the accused’s sons have said they did not start the fire and added that the accused’s daughter — who was seven at the time — had been ill and in bed on the day in question.
“By process of elimination, the only person who could have set the fire is the accused,” he told the court.
READ MORE: Son testifies at Edmonton trial for mother accused of trying to kill him and his siblings
The children’s mother had told the court she thought smoke that night that brought on coughing fits among her children was caused by wildfires. Earlier in the trial, she also said when she woke up to one of her sons telling her there was a fire in the basement, she did not go check because he seemed too calm if he truly saw a fire.
Sopko said while the children’s mother told them to cover their mouths with their pillows when they were coughing from smoke, it was important to remember she also told them to go back to sleep and added there is no evidence she tried to help them escape the fire before they were rescued by neighbours.
Trial underway in Edmonton for soldier accused of trying to kill her 3 children
The Crown prosecutor also pointed out that in the days leading up to the fire, the accused withdrew over $10,000 from her bank accounts — nearly emptying two of them. He suggested the money was likely intended to be a “parting gift” to the friend she wrote the letter to, given its contents.
Steeves said the money his client withdrew was intended for making a down payment on a house, something she in fact did several months after the fire. He also argued the children’s testimony and recollection of events was influenced by their father and that their version of events changed over time.
READ MORE: Trial underway in Edmonton for soldier accused of trying to kill her 3 children
He added there was evidence that raised the possibility of a break-in, noting a torn screen window was found in the basement after the fire.
“There are too many gaps in the evidence, there are too many unanswered questions,” Steeves said.
The judge is expected to deliver a verdict in the trial on Friday, Feb. 24.
–With files from Sarah Ryan, Global News
&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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