Black escapes dangerous offender label, will face ‘significant’ penitentiary sentence

Marlene Bird, pictured in Prince Albert earlier this year. Herald File Photo

The man who set Marlene Bird on fire will face a “significant” penitentiary sentence, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Leslie Ivan Black was spared the dangerous offender label that could have kept him behind bars for the rest of his life. Instead, he will face a fixed sentence and a long-term supervision order.

Judge Stanley Loewen acknowledged that the attack that robbed Bird of both her legs was “violent in the extreme.” But he said it seemed like “a spontaneous reaction” and didn’t prove that Black was bound to inflict further harm.

“The accused knows that he did a bad thing, and accepts responsibility for it,” Loewen said. “This behaviour was very unusual for the accused.”

Defence and Crown lawyers will now make arguments on the exact term Black will serve in prison. They are due to reconvene on September 22.

Black pleaded guilty to attempted murder for the vicious 2014 attack against Bird, who he beat and set on fire in a Prince Albert parking lot. The defence and the Crown have been arguing over sentencing, with prosecutor Jeff Lubyk seeking the dangerous offender designation.

The label would have permitted Loewen to send Black to prison for an indefinite period. Instead, Loewen opted for a long-term supervision order, which will keep Black under close watch upon his eventual release. The order can also be suspended if he reoffends, sending him back to prison.

“The supervision order will hopefully provide sufficient supervision of the accused in the community to provide further protection,” the judge said.

Bird arrived at the courtroom shortly after Loewen read his decision. She attended court frequently throughout hearings this March.

Outside the provincial courthouse, She told a scrum of reporters that she still hasn’t adjusted to the horrific injuries she sustained. She said she wants to see Black go away for most of his life.

“He’ll do that to someone else,” she said. “He’s got to learn not to treat women like that.”

Bird said it’s “painful” to sit in the same courtroom as Black.

“I wanted to look at him,” she said. “I had to cry. He didn’t even say sorry… He just looked down.”

Despite her tears, Bird said she’s “strong.”

“She’s a strong lady, this girl,” her common law partner agreed, after wheeling her down the courthouse ramp.

“I’ve been with her for 25 years, and she’s the best I’ve ever had,” said Patrick Lavallee.

June 1, 2014, was the day Bird’s life changed. She was drinking with Black in the early morning hours when, she says, he began raping her. After she said she would report him, he started kicking and stomping on her as she lay on the ground.

Then, he took out a lighter and set her on fire. She suffered burns to about 40 per cent of her body, forcing doctors to remove what they called “mummified tissue.” They amputated both her legs, performed numerous skin grafts and kept her in a coma for several days.

Medical reports speculated that Black had used accelerant to set the fire, but Judge Loewen said there wasn’t enough evidence to sustain that.

Police arrested Black a few weeks later. In April 2015 he pleaded guilty to attempted murder, apparently in order to avoid the stigma of an aggravated sexual assault charge.

During sentencing arguments, defence lawyer Brian Little stressed that the attack against Bird doesn’t fit into a wider pattern of violence – usually a prerequisite for the D.O. designation.

But Lubyk’s evidence focussed on the “extreme” nature of the violence, and the “callousness” Black showed by leaving his victim to burn.

The judge appeared to side with Little’s argument, concluding that the Crown hadn’t proved that Black’s risk of reoffending can’t be managed in the community.

Loewen drew on the evidence of two experts, one called by the Crown and the other by the defence, who painted opposing pictures of Black’s psyche.

Psychiatrist Shabehram Lohrasbe said Black had “one of the most traumatic backgrounds” of the roughly 1,000 offenders he’s met. He recounted a horrific episode from Black’s childhood, when, on his ninth birthday, he witnessed his mother getting stabbed to death.

In March, Lohrasbe diagnosed Black with antisocial personality disorder, a condition closely associated with criminality, recklessness and a lack of empathy. He even suggested that Black shows some signs of the more extreme psychopathic personality disorder, which he reserved for “unusually malevolent” criminals.

That made his chances for rehabilitation seem nearly hopeless. Personality is highly resistant to change, the doctor said, and empathy cannot easily be taught.

Days later, defence psychologist Terry Nicholaichuk came back with a completely different diagnosis. His testimony focused on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, an anxiety disorder that is much more amenable to treatment.

Loewen acknowledged that Black suffers from a wide range of psychologic disorders. But he concluded that he is “not a psychopath.”

Lubyk said that the Crown will be seeking a firearms ban and a DNA order when the lawyers come back to argue in September. In the meantime, Black is remanded to the Regina Correctional Centre. So far, he has spent 1180 days in jail.

The judge concluded his decision by saying that Black, whatever the exact term of his sentence, will have “anything but an easy road ahead of him.”

“He has a long period of incarceration to serve and another long period of supervision in the community,” the judge remarked, “in order to successfully get on with his life.”