Man pleads guilty to manslaughter in fatal fire
Joseph Snelgrove lit a sofa on fire and walked out the door while his girlfriend Renee Neganiwina was upstairs
The guilty man, the lawyers, and the judge all agreed on the course of justice, but stricken faces in the courtroom offered their own verdict: pain and disbelief.
“It’s been hard to understand this is not some horror story from a book, but a story of my family … This was not her time.”
Renee Neganiwina’s sister, Ashley, fought back tears reading her victim impact statement, but mustered an unblinking stare at Joseph Snelgrove in the prisoner’s dock.
Neganiwina was 26 when she died on March 25, 2015 in her bedroom at 561 Kenilworth Ave. from a fire set by Snelgrove.
He plead guilty to manslaughter Monday and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, minus time spent in pretrial custody, which reduces his time in a federal penitentiary to eight and a half years.
Manslaughter sentences can range from probation to life in prison, but those greater than ten years are infrequent, said Justice Stephen Glithero, especially for an accused like Snelgrove, who, while having a lengthy criminal record (possession of stolen goods, breaking and entering, two assault convictions), has never done time in a federal penitentiary.
Snelgrove, 40, was initially charged with second-degree murder after admitting to police that he set the fire knowing Neganiwina was in the house.
The Crown clearly felt it lacked evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had intended to kill Neganiwina — the required element to prove murder.
Snelgrove and Neganiwina had been in a stormy relationship for about a year. Her sister and mother said Snelgrove had been a controlling presence in her life.
The day he set the fire, Snelgrove had consumed a bottle of liquor. At about 6 p.m., following another argument, Neganiwina was in her second-floor bedroom when Snelgrove lit a sofa on fire on the main floor. The house was just south of Burlington Street East and the National Steel Car plant.
Then Snelgrove walked out the front door. Firefighters found her in the bedroom with no vital signs at about 6:20 p.m. and she was pronounced dead in hospital at 7:40 p.m.
When he received a text telling him she had died in the fire, Snelgrove turned himself in. He told police he knew that the smoke alarm was directly above the sofa and he believed it would alert her to flee the building.
A psychiatric assessment said Snelgrove abuses drugs and alcohol, has low intelligence and possibly schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. He had three types of antipsychotic drugs with him when he was arrested.
Glithero described his actions as “a reckless, dangerous, and stupid” but said it was clear from his statements to police that he had not meant to kill Neganiwina.
That was no consolation to her family. Outside court her sister, Ashley, said she will always believe “100 per cent” he wanted to kill her.
About 20 family members were in court, many taking deep breaths and weeping. Neganiwina’s brother, Lee, described her as a “smiling, beautiful person who looked like a movie star … Sometimes I think about calling her, to say hi. But I can’t.”
Glithero spoke at length in court explaining the sentence to the family. “I can’t bring her back,” he added.
But Renee Neganiwina’s mother already has her eye on higher forms of justice.
“We can’t do anything about it,” she said. “I have to live with the memories. And let the real judge decide someday.”