Sentencing for the man convicted of “torching” his Esquimalt rental property was adjourned on Friday – despite a Supreme Court Justice being ready to send him to jail – so that proper arrangements could be made for his wife to access funds in order to pay bills while he’s in custody.
In October 2019, Wei ‘George’ Li was found guilty by a 12-person jury of intentionally setting fire to the home in the 300-block of Uganda Avenue October 2017. The courts heard on Friday that Li and his wife, who suffers from thyroid cancer, are separated but live in the same home in Quebec to co-parent their two children, one of which is on the autism spectrum.
Justice Robin Baird was unimpressed with the Li’s lack of preparedness and said he was ready to sentence him then and there, but thanks to the lack of opposition from Crown, he would grant the adjournment.
“I do find it surprising that he is taken so unaware by the fact that he should face a jail sentence for torching a house in the middle of a densely populated residential area,” said Baird, who will now deliver his sentence on Wednesday. According to Horne, Li’s wife has no banking details which need to be transferred to her, along with a leased car that needs to be dealt with.
“What in the world did you think was going to happen today,” asked Justice Baird, who said he was “amazed” that Li had not dealt with this.
Li said he thought he would be sent to Quebec and would have to surrender himself there.
During the trial, the courts heard that Li had a strained relationship with his upstairs tenant Billy Montgomery and had attempted to evict him and another tenant in order to address a number of electricity and plumbing issues in the house.
Li testified that Montgomery refused to leave the home and the court heard the two had a series of serious conflicts – some physical – in the days leading up to the fire.
Montgomery was not in his unit when the fire was started, but returned from a morning outing on Oct. 3, 2017 to find the garage up in flames. Authorities found Li at the Victoria International Airport with burns to the left side of his face and ears. He was arrested and taken to hospital.
Evidence included boxes of kindling found in the home’s garage, a half-full jerrycan, and a number of web searches made on Li’s cellphone for information on gasoline and the locations of nearby police and fire departments.
While arson carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, crown lawyer Jess Patterson suggested a sentence ranging from two to five years.
“The factors that are really pushing me towards the higher end of what I thought was an appropriate sentence was Mr.Li’s disregard for what happened after the fire,” Patterson said. “But [if not] for the burns, Mr. Li would have left.
It appeared Horne asked for two years in federal prison to allow Li to serve time somewhere in Quebec, closer to his family.
Li has also been ordered to not leave the Island until he has been sentenced. His passport was seized at the time of his arrest two years ago.
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