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Mistrial declared in case of deadly bathhouse fire

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A mistrial has been declared in the case of a Winnipeg man accused of setting a bathhouse fire that killed two patrons.

Queen’s Bench Justice Doug Abra pulled the plug Wednesday, sending the jury packing because of issues which arose during the three-day-old trial.

Specifically, lawyers had come to an agreement that the October 2009 blaze was caused by arson and the only question is whether the accused was responsible. But the tone changed late Tuesday when the lead fire investigator was repeatedly questioned by the defence about the possibility the fire was started by accident.

Abra ruled sufficient damage had been caused to the Crown’s case – which would have proceeded much differently if not for the pre-trial agreement . He said the only remedy was starting over with a new jury. However, it could be many months, even a year or longer, before that occurs.

Justin Rosdobutko, 29, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of manslaughter. He remains free on bail.

Jurors previously heard that forensic analysts who carefully combed through the rubble of the Aquarius Men's Bathhouse on Notre Dame Avenue were able to determine arson as the cause. The lead investigator, Kevin Ross, said one large fire was set in a couch while a secondary blaze began in a bed. Both were triggered by "direct flame contact" and led to extensive flame and smoke damage in the building.

"I surmised either a magazine or a towel was ignited," Ross testified. He said the fact there were two different points of origin made it clear this was a deliberate act.

"Regularly, in set fires there are multiple fires. (The accused) don't just set one but one or two or many. They're just determined to burn what they want to burn, make sure it's burning well," said Ross.

Jurors have already heard how Rosdobutko was visiting the facility that evening and told a friend they should "burn the bathhouse down."

Steven Yablonski, 23, and Robert Gene Clark, 62, died of smoke inhalation. Yablonski was a local entertainer and Clark was from Saskatchewan.

There were no witnesses to either fire being set. DNA testing on a cigarette butt found in the room where the bed was lit on fire contained a "mixed profile" of two people, jurors were told. Rosdobutko's DNA was not in the profile, but his friend's was.

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