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Arsonists handed 15-year sentence


Justice Sandra Zinchuk sentenced Sean Barry Douglas Nepinak, 28, and Seamus John Nepinak, 26, to 15 years incarceration for their involvement in a fire in Dauphin, Aug. 31, 2013.
The incident sent 17-year-old Clarence Houle to hospital with almost 95 per cent of his body burned and completely destroyed the 6th Avenue NE dwelling.
In Dauphin Court of Queen’s Bench, Zinchuk read her decision, Aug. 1, and shared a brief history about the brothers, who were born in Dauphin.
“Although their parents were in their lives, the family was not without its problems. Sean and Seamus were exposed to criminal lifestyles, characterized by addictions and gang involvement from an early age,” she said.
Zinchuk discussed the character of the brothers, noting Sean was assessed at a high risk to re-offend and Seamus was at a medium risk to re-offend.
Formal victim impact statements were not filed, Zinchuk noted, though both individuals injured in the fire, Houle and Wynona McKay, testified at the trial.
McKay received minor burns to her left foot during her escape and was treated in hospital.
“Clarence Houle was not nearly so fortunate,” Zinchuk said, noting the effect of arson on the teenager’s life was catastrophic.
A paramedic testified it was an extreme case of burn injuries, she noted, adding it was not usual to have a conscious person with such extensive burns.
Following the fire, Zinchuk added, Houle was in a coma for 10 weeks, in hospital for 10 months and at the time of the trial, had undergone 15 surgeries, with more expected.
He has limited use of his hands and lives in constant pain, she said, adding to this day, he experiences vicious night terrors of himself burning alive.
It is an unusual circumstance, Zinchuk said, that a victim with the injuries Houle sustained, has survived.
While two individuals were injured in fire, she said, many more were affected by the arson.
Zinchuk noted seven people were made homeless that day and those in the house at the time of the fire witnessed a friend burned alive, plus RCMP and those assisting during the incident admitted they were affected by it.
“There can be no dispute that the impact of the arson is significant,” she said.
Crown Attorney Erika Dolcetti, had asked Justice Zinchuk to consider a global sentence on all charges of 22 years in custody.
Defense counsel for Sean Nepinak, Nolan Boucher, asked Justice Zinchuk to consider a seven-and-a-half year sentence for his client, while defense counsel for Seamus Nepinak, Zilla Jones, requested an almost eight-year sentence.
Taking into account presentence credits for the defense counsel requests, Zinchuk said, the Nepinak brothers would serve approximately two years less a day in custody in a provincial prison.
The maximum sentence available for a conviction of arson which is reckless, whether the property is inhabited or not, or arson causing bodily harm, she said, is a life sentence. The maximum sentence for arson causing damage to property is 14 years.
There are no minimum sentences, Zinchuk noted, prescribed by the Criminal Code.
“Section 718.1 of the Criminal Code provides that it is a fundamental principal of sentencing, that a sentence be proportionate to the gravity of the offense and to the degree of responsibility of the offender,” she said, explaining gravity has two components, the harm to the victim and harm to society and its values.
“Arson is a serious offence,” Zinchuk said, noting it is unpredictable and can take on a life of its own, with unintended consequences.
Zinchuk felt moral culpability was high for the Nepinak brothers, because the fire was deliberately set, there were six people in the house exposed to physical harm and the pair had the opportunity to reconsider their actions.
Zinchuk conceded the Gladue factor gives credence to the accused and acknowledged the factors, but said it does not lead in an automatic reduction in a sentence
A Gladue report is a presentencing and bail hearing report a court can request when considering sentencing an offender with an Aboriginal background.
“The actions of both accused endangered the lives and safety of others and caused significant and irreparable injuries,” she said, pointing out both men had criminal records and gang involvement.
Zinchuk chose to impose the same sentence on Sean and Seamus Nepinak.
On the count of arson, reckless, as to whether inhabited or not, she sentence the pair to 15 years custody and a further 15 years for the count of arson causing bodily harm to Houle, plus four years on the count of arson causing bodily harm to McKay and four years for the count of arson causing damage to property.
All sentences are to run concurrently, Zinchuk said, calculating with a precustody credit of five years and 10 months, Sean and Seamus will serve nine years and two months in a federal penitentiary.

M. A. Nyquist