The case against a man accused of a 2018 arson in Whitehorse was hampered by poor surveillance footage and insufficient for a Yukon Supreme Court judge to find him guilty.
Travis Thomas Evans attended court virtually from a videoconference room at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC) on May 23 as Justice Edith Campbell read her verdict on what was presented at trial. He was charged with one count of arson endangering life relating to an August 2018 fire at the rear of a downtown Whitehorse home where at least one man was sleeping.
The fire was extinguished by responding police officers before it could spread far beyond grass near the home’s heating oil tank. The house’s rear stairs were also left charred. A partially-melted jerry can was found at the scene.
The crown’s largely circumstantial case against Evans drew from witness accounts and video footage of him first attempting to have a pop bottle filled with gasoline at a Whitehorse service station and then leaving after borrowing a jerry can with the stated purpose of priming a car that was out of gas. Video footage also shows Evans walking with the jerry can in the direction of the house that was burned.
In her decision, Campbell described two pieces of footage obtained closest to the fire as “fogged up.”
The judge found that it was Evans on video in earlier footage but could not conclude that it was him in the final piece of footage which shows a person running away from a bright light down the alleyway where the house burned.
Evans would be arrested months after the fire while visiting the Whitehorse RCMP detachment on another matter.
An unprompted statement Evans made after he had been informed he was under arrest for arson before he was transported to the jail’s arrest processing unit to speak to a lawyer also featured in the Crown’s case.
According to an RCMP witness who did not record the interaction but expressed certainty about what was said, Evans said he “wasn’t going down for this” and claimed he was paid to set a fire by third parties.
Evans characterized the interaction differently when he took the stand and denied saying what the officer claimed.
Finding the whole of Evans’ testimony unbelievable, partially due to recorded phone conversations from WCC that seemed to show him attempting to craft a false alibi, Campbell accepted the RCMP officer’s version of what was said.
However, the judge didn’t give the statement any weight as she found that the arresting officers did not provide Evans with enough specifics to be sure that the fire he was referring to was the one he was charged with setting.
Campbell ruled that the fire was intentionally set but could not find that it was Evans who set it due to the poor video footage that showed at least one other person walking in the area.
Evans, who remains detained on other matters, did not show much reaction as the not-guilty verdict was read.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org