Suspended sentence for bipolar man who set fire to two cars
A man who set a fire that torched two cars adjacent to a Hamilton Parish house with a family inside has been handed a two-year suspended prison sentence by the Supreme Court.
Justice Iris, 25, admitted two counts of wilful damage at an earlier court appearance, while the Crown chose not to proceed with a charge of arson.
Both cars at the Harlem Heights residence had fuel-soaked rags shoved onto the vehicle bodies when the fire was discovered in the early hours of June 28, 2019.
One of the cars belonged to Iris’s estranged wife, while the other belonged to a friend whose house she was visiting.
Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams heard on Wednesday that Iris, a former US Marine, required daily medication to treat bipolar disorder — and that the medicine had been stolen when his apartment was burgled and vandalised the day before the incident.
Upset and unable to find his medication, Iris slipped into a delusional state, defence lawyer Vaughan Caines told the court.
Iris turned himself in at Hamilton Police Station in the morning.
He was arrested after telling officers: “I committed an offence last night by setting two vehicles on fire.”
The court heard that Iris and his wife, who reconciled, live together and had a baby last year.
Prosecutor Javone Rogers explained the pandemic had played “a significant role” in the almost three-year delay in bringing the case for sentencing.
In the summary of evidence, the court heard that Iris’s wife parked at the Harlem Heights residence the afternoon before the fire.
The homeowner, who had been at home all day, had left his car parked about three feet from two kitchen gas cylinders.
Alerted by a neighbour at 3am that his car was engulfed in flames, he ran back inside to get his family to safety, fearing that the gas would ignite.
Before the fire was doused, the woman complainant’s car was badly damaged to the tune of $6,100.
The resident’s car, valued at $5,000, was burnt “beyond repair”.
Mr Rogers said such offences were ordinarily dealt with in Magistrates Court, but the risk to the house had elevated its seriousness.
But mitigating circumstances included the defendant’s previous good character, his guilty plea and diminished responsibility from the loss of his medication.
The Crown recommended nine months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, with two years’ probation.
Mr Caines told the court Iris had come home the previous day to find his apartment burgled and his medication gone.
“He thought that whoever took it knew where it look for it and took it intentionally, to make him even more unstable.”
Iris formed the belief that the occupants of the Harlem Heights residence were responsible.
Mr Caines added: “After coming off his episode, he realised the actions, which in his mind were retaliation, were not reasonable.”
Iris “immediately turned himself in”.
He said Iris was in full-time employment, “religiously” takes his medication and was deemed at very low risk of reoffending.
Mr Caines added that both the Crown and defence agreed on a suspended sentence.
Iris apologised, adding: “I take full accountability, not from a mental perspective but from an understanding perspective.
“I aim to be a better individual, not just in this moment but in moments to come.”
Mrs Justice Subair Williams told Iris the discovery of the fire outside the home must have been “petrifying” for the occupants.
But she agreed on nine months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, with two years’ probation.
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