NEWS

Harley Lawrence Murder Sees Two Men Sentenced To Life In Prison

04/28/2015 02:20 EDT | Updated 06/28/2015 05:59 EDT

KENTVILLE, N.S. - Two Nova Scotia men have been sentenced to life in prison for murder after they set a man on fire as he slept inside a bus shelter.

A judge ordered Daniel Wayne Surette, 27, to serve 20 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole, while Kyle David James Fredericks, 26, will be able to apply for parole after serving 18 years.

The two pleaded guilty in February to second-degree murder in the 2013 death of Harley Lawrence, a 62-year-old man who was homeless. They faced automatic life sentences but their parole eligibility periods had to be determined.

"It's hard to imagine a more horrible death,'' Judge Gregory Warner told the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Kentville on Tuesday.

"It's hard to imagine somebody so animalistic they would pour gas over somebody and watch it.''

According to an agreed statement of facts, Surette bought $10 worth of gasoline while Fredericks pumped it into a plastic jug on Oct. 23, 2013, in Berwick, a community about 120 kilometres northwest of Halifax.

Surette later told an undercover police officer that he and Fredericks thought Lawrence was a police informant watching them deal drugs, the document says.

"It is clear that the pair had a prior animus against Harley Lawrence and thought him a 'rat' who could inform on them to the police; or perhaps that he was even a police officer,'' the statement of facts says.

"The pair saw Lawrence sleeping in the bus shelter and made the determination to set him on fire.''

Surette poured the gas on Lawrence and either he or Fredericks had set him on fire with a lighter, the document says.

Warner said the fact that Lawrence was homeless made the crime worse.

"The least among us are entitled to the same protection as the best,'' he said.

Victim impact statements were submitted to the court, including one from Ron Lawrence, Harley's brother, who said he was in disbelief when he had heard how his brother died.

"It has changed my life forever and cannot be undone,'' Lawrence said.

"It was a tragic loss for me and my family and I will be dealing with this for the rest of my life.''

Crown lawyer James Fyfe read a victim impact statement on behalf of Bob Lawrence, another brother of Harley's.

"Harley was homeless, but still was a human being ... and did not deserve this,'' Fyfe said.

In his decision, Warner adopted a joint sentencing recommendation from both the Crown and defence.

Fyfe said an aggravating factor in Surette's case was that he doused Lawrence with the gas and has a history of anti-social behaviour and criminal violence.

However, Fyfe pointed out that both men pleaded guilty, thereby avoiding a lengthy trial, and each wrote letters of apology to Lawrence's family.

Surette told the court he realizes his actions were harmful and he hopes his sentence brings closure to Lawrence's family. Fredericks declined comment.

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.

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