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Woman cleared of most charges in fatal fire

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A woman cleared of manslaughter, arson and conspiracy charges in connection with a fatal fire in Winnipeg's Point Douglas area must serve out a 12-month conditional sentence for possession of an explosive substance.

Suzanne Eckstein, 48, learned her fate Monday in the Court of Queen's Bench, where the Crown revealed it always had very little — if any — evidence against her for the death of Kenneth Dunn, 19, and the house fire that killed him.

Dunn died in a June 29, 2008 house fire at 138 Lorne Ave., and Eckstein was later arrested in New Brunswick and accused of killing him.

She was in a relationship with Dunn's father, George Dunn, at the time of the fire.

He owned the house where the victim died in the early-morning blaze.

The only evidence prosecutors had against Eckstein was a purported statement made by the victim to his brother, who would have been the witness to testify to what the statement was, Justice James Edmund was told.

However, a preliminary hearing showed that man's evidence came in very low on the credibility scale, Edmund was told.

The Crown would have had to try and get "double hearsay" before the court at a trial — no easy legal feat.

"That presented great hurdles to the Crown right from the beginning," a Crown attorney told Edmund.

To this day, it's difficult to say how the house fire was ignited.

There were up to four jerry cans of gas at the house, with George Dunn testifying they were there to fill up derelict vehicles to move them from the property, Edmund was told.

Eckstein admits to possession of the explosive substance by virtue of knowing the jerry cans were there, but she has always maintained her innocence in setting the blaze.

She and George Dunn were at a hotel celebrating their engagement when she learned of the fire, court heard.

"This case is basically not provable as [to] who or what caused the fire," defence lawyer Martin Glazer said.

Eckstein, given she had only been common-law with George Dunn for a few months, wasn't entitled to receive a dime of any insurance payout, said Glazer.

"Kenneth should not have died in that fire — that's not right," Eckstein told court. "I loved Kenneth," she said.

Edmund agreed "powerful obstacles" existed in the Crown's case, and approved the plea deal and resulting conditional sentence.

Eckstein has been on bail without issue since a few days after her arrest. She is not a danger to the public, Edmund said.

 

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

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