A Bell Island man who broke into his ex-girlfriend's empty home in the middle of the night and set it on fire has been sentenced to 30 months behind bars.
With enhanced credit for the time he has spent in custody awaiting trial, James Pendergast has just under 18 months left to serve on charges of break and enter and arson.
Provincial court Judge Jacqueline Brazil said she accepts that Pendergast's ex-partner, who submitted a victim impact statement to the court, has been traumatized and inconvenienced by the crimes, which caused her to lose all her property. The judge also acknowledged the danger posed to the woman's neighbours and first responders by the fire.
"However, I must balance this with Mr. Pendergast's criminal record, which is not extensive for a 46-year-old man, and contains no convictions for offences approaching the seriousness of the two offences for which I am now sentencing him," Brazil said, noting she had also considered Pendergast's potential for rehabilitation. Pendergast has been gainfully employed for most of his adult life, the judge remarked.
Once his jail sentence is served, Pendergast will complete two years of probation. He's under an order to have no contact with his ex-girlfriend and will have to participate in counselling as deemed necessary by his probation officer once he's released.
Brazil said she believed the sentence "sends a clear message to the offender and to the public that these offences will attract a significant period of custody."
Crown prosecutor Paul Thistle had argued for a jail sentence of between four and five years for Pendergast, while defence lawyer Jason Edwards had argued for a sentence closer to three years.
During Pendergast's trial, a couple living next door to his ex-girlfriend testified they were awoken by the sound of breaking glass around 4 a.m. on Feb. 10. They said they looked outside and saw Pendergast, whom they both knew, reaching inside a broken door window and unlocking the door.
They said they watched him go inside the home and could see him moving around and briefly turning on the light before leaving, reaching back in through the broken glass to lock the door as he left. As Pendergast got to the end of the driveway, the couple testified, they noticed smoke coming from the eaves of the home.
It was later determined that the fire had been intentionally set in a box of clothing and books in a storage room off the living room of the residence.
Pendergast told the court he had been close friends with his ex-girlfriend and had decided to pay her a visit, but had noticed once he approached her home that the glass in the door had been broken. He went inside to check on her and found she wasn't home, then left, he said.
Offering an explanation for the arson, Pendergast said someone else must have been hiding inside the home while he was there, then set the fire and left unnoticed at the same time Pendergast was leaving.