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Jail, probation for man who set friend on fire as a prank

Cheryl Wierda
Contributor
A young man who set his friend on fire as a prank will have to speak to high school students about the follies of his actions once out of jail in the hopes of deterring other young people from doing what they see glorified on television and the Internet.
Judge Anne Wallace, in sentencing Mathew Sweet-Grant Tuesday for setting his friend ablaze, said she found it difficult to “fathom why anyone would do this to anyone.”
“To us as adults, it is completely incomprehensible that people would think this way.”
However, the court heard that Sweet-Grant and his friends had lit each other on fire over the years because they thought it was “cool” and it made them laugh.
No one was hurt in the past, but on Dec. 8, 2012, Tyler Weir, 18, suffered second and third degree burns to 90 per cent of his back after Sweet-Grant, who was intoxicated, lit Weir on fire as he lay on the floor, likely passed out.
And while it would be “patently obvious” to most people that Weir could have been hurt when he was lit on fire, Wallace said she is satisfied that Sweet-Grant “didn’t have any intent to burn the skin of Mr. Weir.”
She also found that the remorse he’s demonstrated since the incident was genuine.
Still, the fire starting was deemed a “very serious” offence by Wallace, who said the courts must denounce such behaviour in a “strong way.”
Aggravating factors she considered during sentencing were the serious injuries the victim was sustained, as well as the fact the act was unprovoked and the victim was defenceless.
Mitigating factors are the 20-year-old’s young age, his early guilty plea and a childhood marred by “excruciating poverty” and an abusive, drug addicted mother.
However, he does not blame his upbringing for his actions and took responsibility for them, an act Wallace found “quite exceptional.”
Crown had asked for a six to eight year jail sentence, which Wallace didn’t find fit with the case law she must rely on to ensure offenders are sentenced similarly for like crimes.
She also disagreed with the defence’s request for three to six months jail, saying it does not “reflect the seriousness of the offence” and doesn’t send a “strong enough message” to others who might participate in similar fire starting activities.
Instead, she sentenced Sweet-Grant to 18 months jail, less the 80 days he has already served in custody.
Sweet-Grant was also given two years of probation. Conditions include 20 hours of community work service, which are to be spent speaking to high school students about the dangers of fire starting pranks.
He must attend any programs or counselling deemed necessary and can participate in a victim-offender
reconciliation if the victim wishes.
If Weir does not want to participate, Sweet-Grant must write a letter of apology.
Otherwise, he may have no contact with the victim or another man accused in the crime. He is also barred from possessing weapons and possessing or consuming drugs or alcohol.
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