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Arsonist who killed 5 offers tearful apology

The woman responsible for burning down a Point Douglas rooming house in July 2011 and killing five people asked the victims' families for forgiveness Thursday.

Lulonda Flett wept at the end of a day-long sentencing hearing in Court of Queen's Bench, asking the families for their forgiveness and blaming her addiction to alcohol for her actions.

Relatives and friends of those killed in the fire hold a memorial service in July 2011.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Relatives and friends of those killed in the fire hold a memorial service in July 2011. Photo Store

With permission from Justice Deborah McCawley, Flett left the prisoner's box and turned to face the large public gallery, which was almost filled with family and friends of the victims. Flett immediately broke into tears as she read from a prepared statement.

"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."

Flett pleaded guilty in October to five counts of manslaughter and one count of arson for the early-morning fire on July 16, 2011. She was originally charged with second-degree murder but that was dropped after it was clear she was extremely drunk at the time.

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 said 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.

Thomson told McCawley the horror of Flett's actions demanded she be given concurrent life sentences. The manslaughter convictions ensure Flett would not be eligible for parole for seven years, and the life sentences would then subject her to supervision by justice officials for the rest of her life.

Defence counsel Darren Sawchuck said 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, adding an appropriate sentence for Flett would be a sentence of eight to 10 years, with credit for time served in custody since her arrest.

Earlier in the day, several people in the gallery wept as the sister of victim Robert Laforte read a statement about how his death had affected her and her family.

Michelle Wazny said firefighters pulled her brother from the burning house but he was placed on life support with no chance of recovery. Her mother agreed to remove Robert from life-support and he struggled to live for several more hours.

"I held his hand so tight and cried and pleaded with God" to take him, "but he continued to struggle for several more hours," Wazny said.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2013 A12

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