Brothers sentenced to 15 years for arson that left teen with burns to 95% of his body

A Manitoba judge has handed down 15-year sentences to two men who set a Dauphin home on fire and left a young man with life-altering third-degree burns to 95 per cent of his body.

Intentional fire set in Dauphin left 17-year-old Clarence Houle clinging to life

Clarence Houle, now 21, was badly burned in a Dauphin arson in 2013. (James Turner/CBC )

A Manitoba judge has handed down 15-year sentences to two men who set a Dauphin home on fire and left a young man with life-altering third-degree burns to 95 per cent of his body.

After time served was factored in, Sean and Seamus Nepinak have nine years and two months left to serve in prison in connection with a devastating Aug. 31, 2013 arson that nearly killed Clarence Houle, injured a woman and left seven people homeless.

The brothers broke in and set fire to materials in a cabinet near the front door that quickly spread to the entire home. Houle, who was sleeping upstairs, caught fire when he ran through it to try and escape. 

The men caused Houle "serious and irreparable injury," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sandra Zinchuk said Tuesday. 

"Though their plan was quickly formulated, they had time to reconsider," she said. "They recklessly placed the lives of six residents at risk."

Houle, now 21, spent 10 weeks in a coma and a further 10 months in hospital as a result of the arson. He lost three fingers and has had 15 surgeries, with the possibility of more to come, said Zinchuk.

In an interview with CBC on July 27, Houle said he still lives in constant pain and struggles financially.
Clarence Houle still suffers immense pain nearly four years after he was almost killed in an arson in Dauphin. (James Turner/CBC)

"There's times when I'm about to fall asleep … I think about the moment the fire catches on to my body," he said. "I still hear my own scream echoing in my head … It's a terrifying feeling even just remembering something that happened almost four years ago," Houle said.

"Mr. Houle has experienced suffering beyond comprehension," said Zinchuk. 

'He has a life to live'

The prison term Zinchuk ordered Tuesday fell short of the 22 years sought by the Crown, but was higher than the provincial jail sentences of less than two years the brothers were each seeking.

She said she took no issue with the Crown's argument that "in effect" the person Houle was before the fire had metaphorically died, but said prosecutors' 22-year request was akin to a punishment handed down in cases where someone is killed.

"[Houle] has a life to live," she said. "One that has been changed in ways most of us cannot grasp, but one that will allow him to be a father to his young daughter.

"Despite the life-altering injuries sustained by Mr. Houle, I cannot impose a sentence which would otherwise apply in circumstances where a victim has died," said Zinchuk.

The motive for the arson was that the Nepinak brothers had a "falling out" with someone who lived there — not Houle, court heard.

Sean, 28 and Seamus, 30, had troubled upbringings marred by drug and alcohol abuse and gang associations, said Zinchuk. They were acquitted at trial of charges the fire was set for the benefit of the PK Mobsters street gang.

The men were arrested in Vancouver a few days after the arson and have been in custody ever since. Each had a prior criminal record.

Manitoba Corrections deemed Sean a high risk to reoffend and Seamus a medium risk, said Zinchuk.

Zinchuk noted that both men have acknowledged to probation officials the impact the arson has had.