National Newswatch

Ontario's highest court has nearly doubled the sentence for a man convicted of attempted murder for setting his girlfriend's house on fire and trying to trap her and two of her children inside, calling it a "particularly heinous" crime that warranted a more serious penalty.

In a decision released Wednesday, the Court of Appeal for Ontario said the 11-year sentence imposed on Kenneth Kormendy, of Windsor, Ont., was inadequate and "demonstrably unfit."

Instead, the court said Kormendy will face a sentence of 20 years with credit for the time he served in pre-sentence custody.

"While every attempted murder is a most serious crime, attempted murders in the domestic context are particularly heinous. The domestic partner victims are uniquely vulnerable because they are in a relationship of trust with the perpetrator," the three-judge appeal panel wrote in a unanimous ruling.

"Even more vulnerable are children of the person in the relationship with the perpetrator, who often suffer terribly in a myriad of ways, if they survive the murder attempted on them."

The appeal court said the trial judge made several errors that affected the sentence, such as failing to properly consider the gravity of the offence and Kormendy's moral blameworthiness.

The judge also failed to treat deterrence and denunciation as the primary sentencing objectives, and to refer to the most relevant cases to gauge an appropriate sentence, it said.

"The moral blameworthiness of these crimes is at the highest level. As in a number of other cases of especially violent attempted murders, the fact that the victims survived was by sheer luck," the appeal court wrote. "The fact that this kind of situation continues to recur in the case law is shocking. The need for denunciation and deterrence is obvious."

Court heard Kormendy moved in with his girlfriend and her three children in 2015 after a few weeks of dating and quickly became controlling. He didn't want his girlfriend visiting family and friends while he was out working, or talking to friends on the phone, according to court documents.

Their relationship deteriorated and in late October, she asked him to move out, the documents say. But after initially appearing to accept her decision, he made efforts to change her mind, they say.

Things came to a head on Oct. 24 after the woman returned home with her seven-year-old daughter and baby, having dropped off her nine-year-old daughter with a relative, court heard. Kormendy had been drinking but denied being intoxicated, court heard.

The woman put the baby in the crib and went to sleep with her daughter in the child's room, the documents say. Kormendy kept coming in to debate her decision to have him move out, and the woman repeatedly asked him to leave, they say.

At one point, she noticed he smelled of gasoline, but he said it was because he had made a campfire in the yard, they say. He came back later to ask if their relationship was finished, and the woman said it was.

Kormendy then returned with a container of gasoline, pouring its contents onto the floor, the bed, the blanket and the woman's pants, court heard. When he tried to use a lighter, the woman pushed him out of the room and closed the door, holding it shut with her body, court heard.

She heard gasoline being poured outside the door and shortly afterwards, Kormendy lit it on fire, court heard. The flames travelled under the door, into the room and up the woman's pants, which caught fire "almost immediately," court heard.

The woman took off her pants, opened the window and woke her daughter, the documents say. Both went out the window "screaming in pain," the documents say.

"The respondent did nothing to warn them, to help in any way or to call for help, including on his cellphone, which he had in his pocket," the appeal decision says.

The woman was able to flag down a taxi driver, who called for help, and only then did Kormendy go back inside to get the baby, it says.

The seven-year-old suffered horrible burns to roughly 15 per cent of her body and has undergone multiple surgeries, but her face is permanently scarred and she will never recover full function of her hands and feet, the appeal ruling says. The baby was not injured.

The mother suffered second-degree burns to her hands, arms, neck and hip.

The trial judge made comments in his reasons for sentence that show his failure to fully appreciate the dynamic in a domestic abuse situation, the appeal court said.

"The trial judge failed to understand that the respondent's controlling behaviour during their relationship, leading up to his refusal to leave the house when asked on the day of the fire, does constitute a pattern of abusive behaviour, and one that ultimately resulted in violence as his solution," it said.

Kormendy, who was also found guilty of arson causing damage to property and possession of incendiary materials, is appealing his conviction but that challenge will be dealt with separately.

Paola Loriggio , The Canadian Press

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