Oshawa woman convicted of setting her apartment on fire

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Published May 9, 2023 at 3:41 pm

Gavel court sentence

A Oshawa woman who was in a “highly volatile and agitated state” over fears of eviction has been convicted of setting her own apartment on fire on the night of December 30, 2020..

Jennifer Castillo had got behind in her rent at 960 Olive Avenue that October, prompting her landlords to begin eviction proceedings with the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB). A witness who saw Castillo on the night of the fire reported she seemed “scared and upset” and told the court the woman “was not safe at home.”

The witness said Castillo asked for a ride to a women’s shelter and climbed into his Jeep around 1 a.m. on Dec. 30. After driving around for a while, Castillo and the witness instead pulled into the driveway at 960 Olive Avenue. Castillo then went inside for nearly 20 minutes while the witness waited in the Jeep.

When she emerged, she had changed her clothes and packed a small bag. The witness described her state as calm and in “no rush to leave.” They left shortly after 3 a.m. and the witness drove Castillo to a women’s shelter.

Minutes after the Jeep pulled out of the driveway, a security camera began to record a faint beeping noise. At 3:44 a.m. the beep became a loud, shrill alarm. The landlords were informed of the fire alarm on their phone around 7 a.m. and first responders went to the scene shortly thereafter.

One of these responders was Oshawa firefighter Greg Petrie who testified he arrived at the home while the alarm was still going off. He told the court he found a small smoldering blaze in its final stages in what looked like a small pile of clothes of garbage.

Oshawa fire prevention investigator Paul Hunt arrived shortly before 8:30 a.m. In a written report, he concluded the fire was intentionally set and reiterated this finding in later court testimony. Hunt additionally concluded the blaze caused around $150,000 in damage.

However, given that all the evidence of Castillo’s guilt is circumstantial, Justice John McCarthy had to find the only reasonable inference from the evidence was that she started the fire “intentionally or recklessly.”

“The origin of the fire could only have been the pile of debris pictured in the investigation photos which inexorably point to it being the epicentre of the fire,” he wrote in his decision. While the defense argued the fire may have been started by a plugged-in space heater, no one reported seeing one and McCarthy called the argument, “simply too fantastic, too speculative, and too fanciful to be entertained.”

While motive is not needed for a conviction, it was hard for McCarthy to infer one in this case. However, he wrote “this evidence tends to show that on the date of the fire, Jennifer Castillo was in a highly volatile and agitated state, concerned about her personal safety, dealing with financial challenges, and facing possible eviction.  It is fair to say that none of this would be inconsistent with having a motive or a mindset to start a fire.”

As such, Castillo was found guilty of arson and causing damage to property. No sentence has yet been decided.

 

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