nb-lyric-theatre-demolition

Roger Chiasson, 20, changed his plea to guilty of arson in the fire that destroyed the old Lyric Theatre on Charlotte Street on April 25. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

A Saint John man has been sentenced to a year in jail and a year of supervised probation for his role in setting a fire that destroyed an historic landmark in the city's uptown in April.

On Thursday, Roger Chiasson, 20, changed his plea to guilty of arson in connection with the fire that destroyed the old Lyric Theatre and an adjacent building on Charlotte Street.

Chiasson, whom the Crown prosecutor described as having mental health issues and an issue with drugs, sat in the prisoner's box talking and joking with another prisoner and motioning to people sitting in the provincial courtroom.

Meanwhile, a few of his relatives broke down in tears as the prosecutor read from a statement Chiasson gave to police, detailing the events that led up to the early morning fire on April 25.

Chiasson met up with two friends, they went to smoke pot at a park in the city's south end, then wandered around. As they were passing an abandoned building, located at 127 Charlotte St., they decided to break in.

They kicked in the door and headed upstairs, where there was a lot of old paper lying around and the walls were covered with cardboard, the court heard.

Chiasson and his friends started lighting pieces of paper and eventually one of the walls in the former appliance store caught fire at about 3 a.m.

Stuck around to watch

They tried to put the fire out, but then left and took a roundabout way back to watch the three-storey brick building burn.

The fire quickly spread to 131-141 Charlotte St., a once grand silent film theatre, which most recently housed a convenience store on the ground floor.

Witnesses saw Chiasson and his friends leave the scene and the trio was arrested a short time later.

The old theatre, which was built in the late 1800s, and the adjacent building from the same era, both sustained significant damage and had to be demolished.

About 30 residents of nearby buildings were also temporarily displaced and traffic was re-routed for a couple of days.

The threatre was a designated local historic site. It was built right after the Great Fire of 1877. It started as a stage theatre and in 1910 became a silent movie theatre, called Lyric Theatre, which operated until 1920.

Chiasson, who has been in custody since April 26, was also sentenced to time served on two other charges of probation violation and mischief.

He was on probation at the time of the fire and locked himself in his jail cell on the day of his bail hearing by sticking a piece of plastic cutlery in the lock, the court heard.

During his one year of probation, he will be required to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, abstain from drugs and alcohol, and not have any contact with his co-accused or the convenience store owner.

A 19-year-old male and a 15-year-old male were also charged in connection with the fire.