The trial for a man charged with intentionally or recklessly setting fire to a duplex he owned in Esquimalt started Monday in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Wei “George” Li, seated in the defendant box at the Victoria courthouse with an interpreter to ensure he understands every word of the testimony, had a cheerful disposition, smiling throughout the proceedings. The trial is anticipated to last two to three weeks with Jess Patterson, representing the Crown, calling 17 witnesses including an upstairs tenant, a former tenant, a neighbour, firefighters and police officers.
The 12-person jury heard the agreed statements of facts including: when the fire broke out at 318 Uganda Ave.; Li’s ownership of the residence; and a lengthy list of web searches from Li’s phone made the previous day. The web searches detailed how to transport gasoline in plastic containers and nearby police and fire departments.
Patterson began his opening statements by reminding the jury that what he says in opening isn’t evidence but only what he expects will be evidence.
According to Patterson on Oct. 3, 2017 Li arrived at the duplex in the morning. Bill Montgomery was living in the upstairs suite and began yelling at Li. Patterson called the pair’s relationship “challenging.”
Montgomery and two friends, who had spent the night at his residence, left the suite that morning, only to return later to find the garage engulfed in flames.
About 40 minutes later, Li arrived at the Victoria International Airport and was attempting to board a flight. Li was in need of first aid treatment, as he was suffering from burns to the left side of his face and his ears. Wei was arrested at the airport and transported to hospital for treatment.
Firefighters and investigators found a jerrycan that appeared to be new, open and half full, along with boxes of kindling.
Detective Jason Eagle, the primary investigator on the case, was first on the witness stand, going through about 30 photos taken during the search of the suite, showing boxes of kindling in the garage, a jerrycan and a key to the suite that was found on Wei while he was at the airport.
Defence lawyer Rolphe Horne’s cross examination of Eagle made note of two cars associated with the scene of the same make, model and color — one of which was Li’s and the other belonging to Montgomery’s friend who had stayed the night.
The Crown’s case is expected to last the entire week.
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