He may have lit his sleeping friend’s clothes on fire, but Mathew Sweet-Grant deserves credit for admitting he did wrong and learning from his blunder, a judge ruled Tuesday.
The 20-year-old was sentenced to 18 months for the aggravated assault and must talk to groups of people about his crime as part of his probation. Judge Anne Wallace denounced his actions but said it’s easy for others to “vilify” him as an evil person.
She said his attitude since the offence makes him a good candidate for rehabilitation.
• Link: Jail recommended by Crown
“What is unusual in this case is that Mathew Sweet-Grant is not blaming his upbringing for being here. He hasn’t said . . . ‘poor me, I had a bad childhood so give me a break.’ Quite the opposite.
“From his first involvement he . . . took responsibility for his own actions. He did not put blame on his mother . . . but said ‘she was my mother, she did the best she could.’ This is really quite exceptional.”
As a child, Sweet-Grant had to collect cigarette butts for his crack-addicted mom in the Edmonton cold so she could use the tobacco. He helped raise his half-siblings and lived on the streets after leaving his abusive mother as a teen, court heard.
He spent time in jail for two robberies before moving to Kelowna. He was drunk and partying with friends in his low-rent apartment in December when he poured after-shave lotion on his friend Tyler Weir passed out on the floor. He sparked a lighter to ignite it, and watched the flames grow on the back of Weir’s hoodie.
Another friend recorded the incident on Sweet-Grant’s cellphone and the pair laughed as they viewed it minutes later. The heat awakened Weir, who got up on his knees and swore as the flames burned his back and singed his hair.
The 18-year-old ran outside, returned minutes later and went back to sleep. He walked home hours later, where he complained to his foster mother about the pain. She saw the burns and took him to hospital with her husband.
Weir suffered second- and third-degree burns on 90 per cent of his back and part of his bum. He spent 51 days in hospital and needs two years of treatment.
Sweet-Grant confessed to police almost right away. He said it was a joke gone bad and called Weir a good friend. He got the idea of torching other people from prank TV shows and first did it while high on ecstasy five years ago.
Sweet-Grant isn’t preoccupied by fire, the judge said. He thought it was a “cool and funny thing to do” and didn’t intend to burn Weir’s skin, even though it was an obvious outcome.
Sweet-Grant was a straight-A student when he attended school. He had several strokes from malnutrition and using ecstasy, court heard. He now gets drug-and-alcohol counselling in jail and is working toward his Grade 12.
“There’s nothing new I need to do to direct him to rehabilitate himself,” Wallace said.
He’s barred from drinking and possessing weapons, and must stay away from Weir and his co-accused Josh McWhirter while on probation.
Outside the courthouse, his stepmother Susan Allan said Sweet-Grant is a good kid who came from bad circumstances.