Marion pleads not guilty
Frank William Edward Marion, 50, pleaded not guilty Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in Prince George to charges of manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death and arson causing bodily harm.
The counts stem from a Jan. 7, 2012 house fire in which Jagdev Singh Jawanda, 85, lost his life. Outlining her case Monday, Crown counsel Marie Louise Ahrens said the trial – expected to last about three weeks – will include submissions of agreed upon facts by lawyers on both sides.
For the Crown, the central issue will be who set the fire.
“We are looking at who set this fire,” said Ahrens. “No one saw the fire being set... This is a circumstantial case.”
Jawanda owned the three-storey building at 2772 Merritt Road which was demolished following the fire last January. The building contained three separate, self-contained suites, one per floor, said Ahrens. Jawanda occupied the top floor suite, Marion lived on the next floor down, while roommates Joseph Stoney and Tyler Robertson were tenants on the bottom level.
Ahrens said in her opening remarks that court will hear from fire crew members dispatched to the fire scene Jan. 7, 2012 that they found Jawanda unconscious at the top of the stairs.
“He was briefly revived, but later died in hospital,” said Ahrens.
Crown witness Prince George firefighter Capt. Darren Hauck testified Monday about the extent and damage of the early-morning fire. He said when he came on the scene Jan. 7 in what he believed was the third fire truck to arrive, he saw flames billowing out a window. Hauck said he and other firefighters made a wide search of the building looking for any occupants.
He described what he saw on the three levels.
“We noticed there was no fire on the top floor (but later) when we opened the ceiling... the fire was in there. We were opening up the ceiling when we were ordered out of there,” said Hauck, explaining the situation for responders had become more dangerous because there was now fire and smoke activity both above and below them.
During the search of the house, Hauck said that he and a team member found in the main (middle) floor kitchen suite, an open oven door and a 20-pound propane bottle, sitting on its side, with the valve pointing towards the other side of the building.
“Did the propane tank cause you any concerns?” asked Ahrens.
Hauck said it did, because of the potential risks of it becoming “a bomb”. However, he explained the various safety mechanisms on these kind of propane bottles, and that his fellow firefighter removed the propane bottle safely from the building without incident.
Earlier Monday, Joseph Stoney and Tyler Robertson took the stand. Both men were tenants who occupied the suite below the one in which Marion lived at the time of the 2012 fire. They testified about an incident a few weeks before the fire, where Marion tried to force his way into their apartment. They both said they later heard Marion yelling that he was going to burn the place down.
“He comes pounding on our door,” said Stoney. Thinking there was an urgent issue, Stoney said he opened the door. Marion was screaming, “’People are out to get me, they’re going to kill me,’” he said.
Stoney said he told Robertson to call police. He testified he heard Marion in his apartment above, yelling and screaming.
“In our suite, we could hear him stomping around, saying [that] he was going to burn the house down,” he testified.
Marion’s defense lawyer, Keith Jones, cross-examined both men about the presence of any gasoline at the residence. There were jerry cans stored on the premises outside, and in a shed, for use with the gas lawn mower, he was told.
Also Monday, RCMP Const. James de la Torre testified that he responded to a complaint Jan. 7, 2012 about 2:52 a.m. in the Lansdowne/Ferry Roads area about a male who was knocking on doors.
From the description given, de la Torre said he observed “a male walking with a duffel bag, wearing a hat” that he believed was the subject of the complaint. He was joined by a second RCMP member, he said. After talking with Marion, he (Marion) consented to a search of the duffel bag.
“I smelled a strong odour of gasoline coming from that bag,” said de la Torre.
Marion was subsequently warned, arrested and charged with arson.
On cross-examination, defence lawyer Keith Jones asked the officer:
“Did you notice any odour of gasoline coming from Mr. Marion’s person?”
De la Torre replied that he did not. The officer also commented on Marion’s personality change.
“Nothing about his demeanour that concerned you initially? asked Jones. “He was cooperative?”
“Yes,” replied de la Torre.
However, Marion’s demeanour changed and he began swearing, the officer said.
“It was like somebody flicked on a switch... Mr. Marion changed his personality all together,” said de la Torre.
Marion began talking in a “Hispanic gangster accent” the officer said – explaining he used the term, not as a stereotype, but rather to indicate an accent you might expect watching a (gangster) movie.
The trial was expected to continue Tuesday before B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ron Tindale.