By Shurtz, Delon on October 22, 2020.
A Lethbridge woman who was suffering from drug-induced psychosis when she started a fire behind a downtown business in May, will spend Christmas behind bars.
Mary-Lee Parks was sentenced to 18 months in jail after she pleaded guilty Tuesday in Lethbridge provincial court to charges of arson, drug possession and failing to comply with release conditions.
Parks, who suffers from several mental health conditions, including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Graves disease – an autoimmune disorder – had set fire to items stacked behind the Umami Shop on 4 Avenue South. The fire caused about $2,000 damage to a security camera system and about $4,000 damage to a nearby telecommunications pedestal. The fire also knocked out internet service to the block.
Crown Prosecutor Bruce Ainscough told court Parks believed she was setting fire to a box containing body parts of possessed mothers who were screaming for children who had been burned.
Parks had left the area by the time police and the fire department arrived, but police found her the next day after they were called to an early morning disturbance on Stafford Drive North. She was arrested shortly after the disturbance and recognized through video surveillance as the person who started the fire the previous day.
Parks asked police if the building had burned down, and explained, “I was doing a controlled burn.”
During a search following her arrest, police found two torch lighters and one cigarette lighter, lighter fluid, matches and 6.1 grams of methamphetamine.
Ainscough said Parks did not express remorse for causing the fire, and actually thought it was funny. However, Parks told Judge Kristin Ailsby she is sorry, and admitted, “I know what I did was wrong.”
Lethbridge lawyer Bjoern Wolkmann, who joined with the Crown in recommending the jail sentence, said his client’s actions were spontaneous and not driven by any vengeance. He suggested Parks was being reckless, likely caused by her mental illness from drug abuse.
Parks was sent for a forensic assessment in May at the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre in Calgary, to determine whether she is unfit to stand trial or was, at the time of the commission of the alleged offence, suffering from a mental disorder so as to be exempt from criminal responsibility. Doctors found she is fit to stand trial and able to instruct her lawyer, but noted she was off her medications at the time of the offence.
Parks will be on probation for two years after she is released from jail, with conditions that she behave herself, avoid contact with the owner of the Umami shop, not leave Alberta, not possess any weapons, provide 15 hours of community service, abstain from alcohol and drugs, not be in any business whose primary role is the sale of alcohol, and live in a residence approved by her probation officer. She must also take counselling for psychiatric issues, substance abuse, life skills and anger management, and receive treatment for alcoholism and drug abuse.
Although sentenced to 18 months in jail, Parks was given enhanced credit for the time she has already spent in custody since her arrest, leaving her with 10 months to serve. The Crown and defence both agreed that a prison term of two or three years would have been an appropriate sentence for arson, if not for Parks’ mental health issues.
When asked by the judge how she feels after being in jail for several months, Parks said she feels better after receiving treatment for her conditions.
“Now that they’re treating my Graves disease, I feel like I’m on the verge of stabilizing.”
“I wish you all the best,” Ailsby responded. “Become well and stay well. That’s what we want for you.”
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