December 13, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
A Winnipeg woman has been sentenced to life in prison -- but will be eligible for parole in just five years -- for killing five people by burning down a rooming house.
Lulonda Flett plead guilty last year to five counts of manslaughter and one count of arson for the July 16, 2011 attack in Point Douglas. She returned to court Thursday to learn her fate.
Flett previously asked the families of her victims for their forgiveness and blamed her addiction to alcohol for her actions.
"I am deeply sorry for what I have done," she said. "I really hope you can forgive me for what happened. I will never forget what happened. I never meant for this to happen... Every night I cry myself to sleep knowing I can't change what happened."
Eight people were inside the home; two escaped unhurt, six were pulled from the home by firefighters and one of them, Bradley Anderson, survived. The other five died.
Crown prosecutor Liz Thomson told court Flett had had a long-running feud with her boyfriend's mother and teenage daughter, who lived in the rooming house on Austin Street North. She blamed the mother and daughter for her having to spend a night in jail earlier in the week and returned to the rooming house early on July 16, 2011, to teach them a lesson, as she claimed.
She threw a match onto a couch on the front porch and the ensuing fire spread to the rest of the house. The three-storey home was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived.
Ironically, her boyfriend's mother and sister lived on the first floor and escaped without injury, but the others were trapped by the flames on the second and third floors.
Flett ran off to a nearby residence, where she met with her boyfriend and admitted to him she had started the fire. Police found her later in the day drinking at the Northern Hotel. She admitted to police she started the fire but said she never intended to hurt anyone.
The Crown said the horror of Flett's actions demanded she be given concurrent life sentences, which is the maximum sentence allowed in Canadian law. There is no provision to allow for consecutive life sentences. The manslaughter convictions ensure Flett is eligible for parole after seven years, less the two years of time she's already spent behind bars. If granted parole, she would be subject to supervision by justice officials for the rest of her life.
Defence counsel Darren Sawchuck told court Flett had been "grossly intoxicated" when she set the fire and had been drunk several days.
Sawchuk said Flett had been born and raised in a violent environment and used alcohol for years to numb the emotional pain. She had been sexually abused as a child for several years and her pleas for help ignored. Her first husband was physically abusive. Flett suffered intellectual and cognitive deficits, had a drinking problem, poor communication skills and was easily angered, he said.
"Miss Flett has been, for the longest time of her life, a lost soul," Sawchuk said. "She is a person in need of tremendous help and assistance."
He said sentences for similar offences involving arson and death range from five years to life and argued an appropriate sentence for Flett would be a sentence of eight to 10 years, with credit for time served in custody since her arrest.