Eight years in jail for violent assault and arson

The man who torched his Langley home with his estranged wife and children inside will spend almost eight and a half years behind bars.

Andre Richard was sentenced to eight years, five and a half months for arson of an occupied property, aggravated assault, and break and enter with intent to commit an offense.

“Ms. [S] and her children must be protected from the accused,” said Judge Peder Gulbransen, in his ruling. “That can only be done by incarcerating him.”

The sentence would have been a full 10 years without the time Richard, arrested in April 2014, had already spent behind bars, noted Gulbransen.

The judge described the events leading up to the violent assault on the home on Wakefield Drive in the Willowbrook neighbourhood.

Richard and his wife, who cannot be named as a victim of the incident, had been married since 2007. They were raising a seven-year-old son and S’s 13-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. Outwardly, the family appeared normal, attending church and with Richard volunteering with his son’s hockey team and at his childrens’ schools.

But Richard was psychologically and physically abusive, throughout the relationship, S reported.

The Ministry of Children and Families opened five files on the family.

In 2013, Richard was arrested and charged with assaulting his son, said Gulbransen.

Richard moved in with a friend, banned by the court from coming near his now-estranged wife. Although he left letters for them promising to never be violent again, he seemed very upset in the spring of 2014. A friend heard him muttering about burning down his home.

On April 1, he was served with divorce papers. He left his friend’s home at 8:30 p.m. that night.

Just before 1 a.m. the following morning, he arrived at his wife’s house.

“There is no doubt that the accused had come prepared to break into the house and set it on fire,” said Gulbransen.

Wearing goggles, he smashed a glass panel on a sliding door. The noise woke his wife and step-daughter. Richard headed upstairs and confronted his wife in her bedroom, screaming at her. He attacked her with a drywall saw and a rubber-headed mallet.

When his daughter tried to intervene, he hit her with the saw in the chest as well, and then struck her in the head with the mallet, almost knocking her unconscious.

He continued to attack his ex-wife until she told her daughter to hit the alarm system’s panic button. Once the alarm went off and the police were summoned, Richard broke off his attack, went downstairs, poured an accelerant on the floor and torched the living room.

“The living room was soon engulfed in flames,” said Gulbransen.

S managed to get her daughter and son down and around the flames and outside, heading to a neighbour’s house.

“When the neighbours opened their door they encountered a terrible sight,” said Gulbransen. “[S] and her daughter were both covered in blood.” Behind them the house was on fire.

S had suffered a punctured lung, lacerations and other injuries. She suffered a seizure before the ambulance arrived, in front of her children.

“There was an element of planning in these offenses,” said Gulbransen. Richard did not lash out suddenly, “but rather in a cool and calculated rage, aimed at his wife.”

Richard was found on April 3 and arrested, having already driven to Calgary and back into B.C., said Gulbransen. Richard had bought dryer tubing and duct tape and had a plan to kill himself. When police pulled over his erratically-driven van, suspecting he was a drunk driver, he slashed at his arms with a box cutter.

While awaiting sentencing, Richard declined to be interviewed for a pre-sentencing report, or to speak with a psychologist.

There is no suggestion of serious mental illness in the case, and Richard had no previous criminal record, Gulbransen said.

His two siblings, with whom he has little contact, reported they had been sexually abused as children by a relative but did not know if Richard had been, said the judge. They remembered him has having a bad temper.

Gulbransen agreed with the Crown’s suggestion that a 10-year sentence was fit, rather than the defense’s call for a five- to six-year sentence.

The crimes were aggravated by the fact that he drove away after starting the fire, knowing the only adult inside was badly injured, said the judge.

“To describe such behaviour as callous is an understatement,” said Gulbransen.

The crime has left the victims with physical and emotional scars, and financially devastated. Their home and everything they owned was destroyed, and S suffers major anxiety, especially at night as the time of the attack approaches.

While there is some hope of rehabilitating Richard, of higher importance is keeping him imprisoned to protect his former family, said the judge.

Richard, who was heavily bearded and clutching a Bible when he appeared earlier this year to plead guilty, was clean shaven in court on Tuesday. He sat silently in the prisoner’s box and said nothing as he was led away.

A large contingent of family and friends of his victims were watching from the far side of the courtroom in the viewing gallery as he was led away by sheriffs.

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