A man who pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and assault with a weapon after setting his friend on fire at a house party last December is expected to be sentenced on Tuesday.
Mathew Edward Sweet-Grant sat in the prisoners box on Monday during sentencing submissions wearing a long sleeved white T-shirt and red pants. He spent most of the day looking down towards his feet; his eyes occasionally darting up to whoever was speaking. He rarely looked towards the gallery where his father and stepmother were seated.
During submissions from the crown, the court heard how the victim – Tyler Weir – passed out after a party at the Vecchio Corner row-houses, located in the 2500 block of Highway 97. Sometime during the early morning hours of Dec. 8, 2012, he was lit on fire and suffered second and third degree burns to over 90 per cent of his back. Pictures taken by police and entered as evidence show the majority of the right half of his body from his shoulder to his back appearing discoloured, with numerous blisters – including open wounds on his buttocks.
According to the first statement given to police, Weir initially believed bacon fat had been poured onto his back, but realized it was something much worse. Later, he told police that he had been drinking heavily but remembers waking up around 10 a.m. knowing he had been set on fire, thinking an accelerant had been used and believing Sweet-Grant had been the culprit.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, Weir says he didn’t feel anything until he saw the flames – and then spent the next 51 days at Kelowna General Hospital in extreme pain. He talked about the weeks and months ahead that will include daily moisturizing and bandaging, and how his quality of life will suffer with the inability to experience direct sunlight on his back for the next two years. Weir says he experiences mobility issues, lost wages and continuous discomfort that has taken a toll on him both physically and mentally.
The crown contends that Sweet-Grant poured Aqua Velva aftershave onto Weir’s back and lit him on fire, because Weir had stolen food out of the fridge. The court was shown video footage of the incident that shows a person cautiously pour a liquid all over the back of someone who appears to be passed out on the floor. That person – identified as Sweet-Grant through some unique tattoos that were visible on his arms – then used a lighter to ignite the liquid, before continuing to squirt more onto the victim to keep the fire going. It takes a few moments for the victim to awaken and realize what is happening, before they get up from the floor and run out of view from the camera.
According to police reports, Sweet-Grant initially denied taking part in the incident and it was only after he was shown pictures of Weir’s severely burnt body that he admitted to being at the scene. He told police he was too ‘hammered’ to remember what happened, but said if he had lit someone on fire, it would have been caught on his cellphone. He also admitted to doing this before, and used fire as a threat to people who crossed him or owed money.
In court documents Sweet-Grant continuously refered to the incident as a 'joke gone bad' and he never intended to hurt anyone. He said similar pranks had been undertaken in the past, all under controlled circumstances. The crown took offence to this, sighting the fact no one should have to be told to not light someone on fire.
Crown counsel David Grabavac says there are numerous aggravating factors at play including prior convictions for robbery, and the fact the victim was defenseless and the attack was unprovoked. He suggested a prison term of between 6-8 years for aggravated assault and another 2-3 years for assault with a weapon to be served concurrently.
West Munson, the lawyer representing Sweet-Grant immediately pointed out that his client quickly accepted the blame, told police what had happened and was remorseful. He also points out that Weir went back to sleep the morning of the incident, questioning the painful extent of the victims burns. In response to the video evidence, Munson attempted to explain how in the past, Sweet-Grant and a number of his friends (including Weir) had done the same thing with zippo fluid and the ‘victims’ would pat out the flame. This time, everyone was heavily intoxicated and used an accelerant that was not as flammable. That, combined with the heavy cloth of Weir’s hoody, led him to believe the liquid soaked through the material and caused the burning to Weir’s body.
Significant time was also spent on Sweet-Grant’s childhood, spent growing up in ‘excruciating poverty’ and being abandoned by his drug-addicted mother at the age of 17. Munson also told the court that Sweet-Grant suffered from a stroke at the age of 14 and suffers from left frontal lobe damage. Throughout all of this, Munson points out how Sweet-Grant expressed remorse from the beginning, is attempting to better himself while in remand at the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre and has spent the past 80 days in lockup since his arrest on Dec. 8 of last year. He calls the crowns submission proposal ‘extreme overkill’ and instead suggested a term of between three and six months, followed by probation and other conditions.
Judge Anne Wallace has reserved her decision until Tuesday, Feb. 25.
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