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Thursday, 21 May 2009

Atkinson and Mitchell both members of the Indian Posse street gang believed rival gang members were selling drugs out of the Mountain Avenue house

A judge has sentenced 28-year-old Riel Mitchell to eight years in prison for the arson death of 14-year-old Nathan Starr. Mitchell, who was originally charged with second-degree murder, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last week in the midst of his preliminary hearing. Starr died of smoke inhalation after the Mountain Avenue home he was staying in was set on fire Dec. 4, 2007. A second accused, 17-year-old Dylan Atkinson, pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year and was sentenced as an adult to seven years in prison. Mitchell claimed -- and the Crown was in no position to disprove -- that he accompanied Atkinson and another male to the home with the intention of confronting or assaulting a man Atkinson said had previously beaten him. Defence lawyer Zaheel Zaman told court Mitchell was intoxicated and "couldn't rule out whether there was a discussion as to an arson happening." "The tragedy cannot be measured here," said Judge Wanda Garreck. "This was a crime fuelled by anger and retaliation ... without care for who was home at the time." Mitchell was given double credit of 35 months for time served, reducing his remaining sentence to 61 months. The sentence was a joint recommendation of the Crown and defence. Crown attorney Brent Davidson told court at an earlier hearing the case against Mitchell was weak and circumstantial and that Mitchell stood a good chance of being acquitted had the matter gone to trial. Atkinson and Mitchell -- both members of the Indian Posse street gang -- believed rival gang members were selling drugs out of the Mountain Avenue house and decided "some sort of message had to be sent," Davidson said. Gasoline was poured on the front porch and set on fire at about 1:30 a.m. Police patrolling the area saw two males running from the home which was quickly engulfed in flames. The fire blocked the only regular exit from the house as the back door was fortified from the inside. Rather than run after the suspects, the officers remained at the house, helping six adults and four children escape through a window. Starr, a visitor to the home, was found lying on a bed in an upstairs bedroom. Paramedics rushed him to Health Sciences Centre, where he was pronounced dead. "Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Mitchell were callous in their disregard for anyone in that house, not just Mr. Starr," Davidson said. "Because the Indian Posse street gang simply wanted to send a message, Nathan Starr is no longer alive."


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