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Appeal dismissed for Edmonton soldier convicted of arson, attempted murder

WARNING: This article contains mentions of suicide. 

An Edmonton soldier convicted of setting fire to her family home at CFB Edmonton in 2015 has had her appeal dismissed due to a lack of evidence and credibility.

The woman, who cannot be named due to a publication ban, was convicted in February 2023 on two counts of arson and three counts of attempted murder in connection with a fire set in the basement of her home in 2015.

She was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2023 and was discharged by the military.

The main issues at trial were identifying the arsonist and establishing whether the accused intended to commit attempted murder.

In her appeal, the woman argued the trial judge misjudged her credibility, made errors in his treatment of evidence and failed to properly consider whether her evidence could raise a reasonable doubt as to her guilt.

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The Alberta Court of Appeal released its decision Friday, concluding that the trial judge acted accordingly in finding the woman uncredible and that her evidence did not raise a reasonable doubt.

“The appellant on appeal has not pointed to anything beyond speculation to suggest that another person set the fire,” the decision reads.

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“Given the evidence in this case and the trial judge’s assessment of it, he did not err in ruling out other possibilities as being speculative.”

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At trial, the court heard the woman took her three children to her home at CFB Edmonton after a three-night stay at Fantasyland Hotel in West Edmonton Mall.

The woman’s sons testified she gave the children NyQuil and put them to bed. They woke up later to find the house filled with smoke.

The oldest child testified their mother sent them back to bed, but instead the three children climbed out of a window and onto the roof, where a neighbour rescued them.

Friday’s Memorandum of Judgment outlines evidence that someone had removed the smoke detectors in the home before the fire. Two were found in garbage bags in the basement, along with fire accelerants.

The decision also included details of a suicide letter sent to the woman’s male friend in a brown paper package, which contained $10,000.

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The friend later returned the money to her at a roadside meeting after telling her on the phone that he could not accept it.

While the defence argued at trial that the consistency of the woman’s story lent credibility to her evidence, the judge found aspects of her interview statement and trial testimony undermined her credibility.

He also believed the woman’s behaviour in her police interview — where she supposedly took long pauses when responding to questions about the fire, instead rambling about “irrelevant matters” — also reflected on her credibility.

“It is clear from the trial judge’s detailed reasons that he was well aware of the appellant’s circumstances,” the decision reads.

“He relied on reason and common sense, life experience and logic in assessing the appellant’s credibility.”

The woman also argued the trial judge failed to properly consider whether her evidence could raise a reasonable doubt about her guilt, suggesting one of the children could have started the fire or that the woman only intended to kill herself.

The trial judge found it would be speculation to suggest the children or another person removed evidence or started the fire or that the fire started on its own.

“It would be speculation that someone other than (the appellant) started the fire,” he said.

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He also concluded that, given the evidence, the woman specifically intended to kill herself and the children as she “decided it was better to die with her children than to lose them to their father.”

The woman also argued the judge did not properly assess whether she, in her specific circumstances, intended the natural consequences of her actions.

Appeal court judges disagreed and concluded that the judge was “well aware” of the appellant’s circumstances.

“There is no basis to interfere with his conclusion that she intended the natural consequences of her actions,” the decision reads.

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