A man was convicted Thursday (Feb. 10) in Victoria court on two counts of arson for setting a fire in the townhouse bedroom of his on-again, off-again girlfriend.
Murray Sam was arrested in the early hours of May 17, 2019 at the townhouse in the Evergreen Terrace complex in the 2500-block of Blanshard Street.
He and his girlfriend had been arguing throughout the evening of May 16, Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Gaul told the court in a statement of facts. They went out to a club, got intoxicated and returned to her townhouse, where she lived with her daughters.
The two went up to the bedroom, where their earlier argument escalated.
“Mr. Sam became aggressive with (her), both physically and verbally,” Gaul said.
Two of the woman’s daughters who were home heard the argument and went to check on their mother. They both witnessed Sam being physical with their mother, Gaul said. The woman went downstairs to call police and both daughters left the room, leaving Sam alone in it.
Victoria police received a call just before 4 a.m., and six minutes later Const. Kevin Nystedt and Const. Tristan Williams arrived at the townhouse. They entered and had just begun speaking with one of the daughters when they noticed the smell of smoke.
One of the daughters was the first to re-enter her mother’s room.
“Upon doing so, she saw Mr. Sam was standing, facing the curtains on the back wall, and that there was a fire on the curtains,” Gaul said. Sam said nothing upon her entry.
Nystedt and Williams jumped into action, the former running to his police car for a fire extinguisher and the latter calling the fire department. Williams testified he saw Sam turn away from the fire and lay down on the bed.
“By the time Const. Nystedt had returned to the room the fire had expanded significantly, the curtains were entirely inflamed, and the fire had spread to other locations in the room,” Gaul said.
Nystedt removed Sam from the bed, handing him off to Williams to be taken into custody, and deployed the fire extinguisher before ensuring no one was left in the townhouse and exiting himself. Both constables were later taken to hospital as a precaution for smoke inhalation.
No one else was injured, although residents in several other units had to be relocated.
The fire inspector later confirmed the blaze began in the girlfriend’s bedroom where Sam had been left alone. He told the court given there was no identifiable source of the fire, it was likely started by an open source such as a match or a lighter.
Addressing Sam directly on Thursday, Gaul said he had no doubt Sam set the fire intentionally and with full knowledge there were other people in the residence.
“I am sure you’re guilty,” Gaul said.
Sam’s sentencing will be delayed until a Gladue report is prepared, which his lawyer estimated will take eight weeks.
Gladue reports present circumstances of an Indigenous accused’s life for a judge to take into consideration when deciding on a sentence.
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