Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Plea bargain for young arsonist

Officials hope resources prevent new offences

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Brandon Sutyla has a dangerous obsession with fire -- one he admits has led him to do "wrong things."

Justice officials are now hoping the mentally challenged young man has enough resources in place to prevent the type of random crime sprees that threatened a city neighbourhood last year.

Sutyla, 21, pleaded guilty to nine counts of arson Tuesday as part of a plea bargain. The Crown dropped 13 other similar charges and agreed to a two-year conditional sentence that allows Sutyla to remain free in the community so he can continue accessing numerous resources set up for him since his arrest.

All the fires occurred between May and July 2011 in Fort Rouge and caused more than $100,000 in damage. Sutyla admits he set several garages, garbage bins and even vehicles on fire after sneaking out of his home in the middle of the night on numerous occasions. There were no injuries.

Defence counsel Martin Glazer told court his client has the mind of someone "half his age" because of severe cognitive issues that include autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Previous attempts to get his client on a better path have failed.

Sutyla is a no stranger to the courts, having been convicted for setting a garage fire on Wellington Crescent in 2009. However, he also confessed at the time to setting more than a dozen other fires in which charges were eventually dropped based on concerns about the validity of the statement collected by police.

Police arrested Sutyla again in early August 2011 after finding him near a small-car fire on Chancellor Drive, which he admitted to setting. Police questioned Sutyla for 16 hours and subsequently charged him with the other offences. He also took police on a tour of the neighbourhood, pointing out fires he claims to have set.

"In a battle of wits between police and my client, my client is unarmed," Glazer said Tuesday.

Lawyers told court Tuesday there would be no case against Sutyla if not for his confessions, as there was no forensic or witness identification linking him to the crimes.

Sutyla has been free on bail for the past 15 months with strict conditions that include having his mother install an alarm system in the home that will let her know if her son tries to sneak out.

There have been no allegations of breaches.

A court-ordered report also shows Sutyla is a low risk to reoffend provided he is being properly supervised and monitored in the community. As part of his conditional sentence, he will be under a nightly 9 p.m. curfew.

"Being tough on crime can also mean providing an accused with significant community resources to keep them out of trouble," Glazer told court. "He has learned a great deal and feels he can continue to grow and stay out of trouble."

Provincial court Judge Kelly Moar quizzed Sutyla on why he returned to setting fires last year following his previous brush with the law. Sutyla would only say he did "wrong things" but believed he could now make "the right choice."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2012 B2

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