Edmonton soldier found guilty of trying to kill her children by setting house fire

A 45-year-old Edmonton woman has been convicted of three counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson. (Cort Sloan/CBC - image credit)
A 45-year-old Edmonton woman has been convicted of three counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson. (Cort Sloan/CBC - image credit)

An Edmonton soldier has been found guilty of trying to kill herself and her three children by setting her house on fire in 2015.

The 45-year-old woman cannot be named because of a publication ban protecting her children's identities.

Crown prosecutor Dallas Sopko argued during the trial that the woman was so bitter about having recently lost primary custody of her children that she preferred to die with them rather than see her ex-husband have primary custody.

Edmonton Court of King's Bench Justice John Little said the Crown proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she had started the fire on July 19, 2015, with the intent to kill the children.

Her kids, two sons and a daughter, were 10, eight and seven years old at the time of the fire. Neighbours rescued them — and their mother — after hearing shouts for help in the middle of the night.

"I take no pleasure in this conclusion," Little said in court Friday morning.

In the days before the fire, the mother took her children on a shopping spree at West Edmonton Mall, where they stayed for two nights at the Fantasyland Hotel.

A letter she wrote to a friend on Fantasyland Hotel stationery said, "by the time you get this, I will be either in jail or dead," and "please don't feel bad or guilty thinking that there was anything you could have done." The letter was accompanied with $10,000 in cash, which the friend later returned.

Court of King's Bench
Court of King's Bench
Court of King's Bench.
Court of King's Bench.

Little said the letter told him she was planning "something dangerous or illegal or both." She had claimed it referred to a planned confrontation with her ex.

The judge said the woman's oral testimony was "riddled with illogical and unreasonable assertions" and that he did not find her credible. He determined she had tried to distract the person interviewing her for a military police investigation.

The mother had claimed in court that she withdrew more than $11,000 before the fire because she had decided to buy a house and needed to put her money in one place. She said she put the cash in a glove box in her car for safekeeping while she and the kids were at the mall.

"None of that makes any sense," the judge said.

Fire experts who had examined the house on the CFB Edmonton base testified that they believed the fire had been deliberately set.

They found no appliance failures or other signs it could have been accidental.

They found smoke detectors and fire accelerant in a bag in the home's basement, where the fire originated.

The woman acknowledged in court that her children would not have been able to reach and remove the smoke alarms and that she did not know who did.

Defence lawyer Curtis Steeves had argued that security at the house after the fire was lax and that firefighters moved things, but Little said he was persuaded that evidence had not been improperly tampered with.

Little said the woman ensured her children were all in one room with her, removed the smoke detectors and set the fire.

She had an opportunity to back out of the plan when her sons woke her up multiple times, warning of smoke and then fire, he said.

The woman, who has yet to be sentenced, will be under house arrest, with some exceptions, including to attend medical appointments.

Her next court date is March 10.