POLITICS

Two Nova Scotia men who set homeless man on fire plead guilty to murder

02/23/2015 10:41 EST | Updated 04/25/2015 05:59 EDT
KENTVILLE, N.S. - Two Nova Scotia men who doused a homeless man with gas and set him on fire with a cigarette lighter while he was sleeping in a bus shelter pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder.

The Crown read a summation of an agreed statement of facts in Harley Lawrence's death after Daniel Wayne Surette and Kyle David James Fredericks entered their pleas.

Lawrence, 62, was found in a burned out bus shelter on Oct. 23, 2013, in Berwick, a small town about 120 kilometres northwest of Halifax.

Six months later, Surette, 27, and Fredericks, 25, were charged with first-degree murder.

A preliminary hearing for Surette and Fredericks began earlier this month but their defence lawyers agreed Monday to proceed with a trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Kentville, where they pleaded guilty to the reduced murder charge with the Crown's consent.

"I hope the family can fine some closure," Surette said as he was whisked out of the courtroom in handcuffs and remanded into custody.

Ron Lawrence, the victim's brother, said the pleas give him little comfort.

"It shows a sense of guilt and closure on their behalf knowing that they accept responsibility," he said outside court.

"But it still doesn't change nothing."

Surette's lawyer said his client has been bothered by his actions and the Crown agreed that they weren't planned and deliberate.

"I think it was a question of getting a resolution that fit what he did," Ken Greer said. "It wasn't a first-degree murder. It was a second-degree murder and once the Crown was able to move off of first-degree murder, we were able to come to a resolution quickly."

Outside court, Crown attorney James Fyfe said Fredericks pumped $10 worth of gas into a plastic container at a gas station near the bus shelter where Lawrence slept and Surette paid for the fuel.

"They at some point made a decision, I'm not sure, it's unclear whether it's before they bought the gas or after that they were going to burn this man," Fyfe said.

Fredericks and Surette believed Lawrence was either a police informer or undercover office and they had a dislike for him that had been festering, Fyfe said.

"They viewed him as a bum, they viewed him as a possible rat or a narc and that seems to have played some part in their eventual decision to do this horrific act," he said.

The two men face a life prison term with no chance of parole until at least 10 years is served.

Fyfe wouldn't say what sentence he will seek but confirmed there will be a joint recommendation with the Crown that will go beyond the minimum parole eligibility period.

"I think you can be assured of that," said Fyfe.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for April 28.

After Lawrence's death, local residents said he was using the bus shelter for refuge as temperatures dipped. In the days that followed, a candlelight vigil was held in his memory where the bus shelter stood.