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 Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JON WELLS jwells@thes­ 905-526-3515 | @jon­jwells

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.”

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