A Winnipeg street gang member who played a lead role in setting a $1-million revenge-motivated fire that injured 19 people and left dozens homeless is facing seven years in prison.
The arson Cody Roulette, 22, helped set, which flattened a 14-suite complex at 577 Sherbrook St. on Jan. 14, 2012, was his first brush with the justice system, provincial court Judge Sid Lerner heard Friday.
Despite that, the facts and impact of the crime he and other West Side Bloodz members committed in their effort to get back at the rival Mad Cowz gang are so egregious it calls for a lengthy prison term, Crown prosecutor Jocelyne Ritchot said.
Outraged when one of their members was robbed and pepper-sprayed by a rival, a group of Bloodz who had been drinking and popping pills at a Furby Street apartment formed a plan to exact "vigilante justice."
A nearby basement apartment on Sherbrook was associated with the Mad Cowz gang and Roulette led the charge to go there, court heard. "The motive was to send a message to the Mad Cowz, plain and simple," said Ritchot.
Roulette admits going into the suite with others, helping to ransack it and then stuffing sheets into the apartment's oven. The blaze quickly spread and engulfed the block, ultimately reducing it to rubble and forcing the 40 to 50 people inside onto the street.
Nineteen people — including eight children — were treated in hospital for their injuries.
Those who lived there "lost everything" and didn't have insurance, Ritchot said. "They were left with nothing but the shirts on their backs."
Roulette and several others were arrested after police were tipped off to go look for suspects at the Furby Street block. Standing outside an apartment door, officers heard people bragging inside, with one person exclaiming: "'I burned the whole f------ place down, go and check it out,'" said Ritchot.
Roulette and three other Bloodz members were charged in connection with the blaze. Another suspect remains at large and wanted by police.
"The community at large needs to see offences such as these will be severely sanctioned," Ritchot said, calling the crime a "random, cowardly act of violence."
Despite agreeing with the Crown that the arson was "extremely dangerous" and the gang-related circumstances aggravating, defence lawyer Amanda Sansregret requested a five-year prison term, citing Roulette's lack of criminal record, his remorse and an upbringing marred by "trickle down" effects of the residential school system.
Prior to taking part in the crime, Roulette was doing well in the community, learning how to care for his sick mother and working at the convenience store his father owns, said Sansregret. His family was "quite flummoxed" to learn of his involvement in gang life, she said.
Lerner reserved decision until next week.