Trial for Brampton, Ont. man accused in deadly 2020 fire nears its end

Click to play video: 'First-degree murder trial for Brampton man accused of setting a fire that killed his mother-in-law and nearly 5 others coming to a close'
First-degree murder trial for Brampton man accused of setting a fire that killed his mother-in-law and nearly 5 others coming to a close
WATCH: A first-degree murder trial for a Brampton man accused of setting a fire that killed his mother-in-law and nearly killing his wife, three children, and father-in-law is coming to a close As Catherine McDonald reports, Helder Verdentes-Arruda’s lawyer told the jury his client is not guilty of murder because he was suffering a “substance abuse psychotic disorder” at the time and didn’t know the consequences of his actions – Apr 16, 2024

Helder Vertentes-Arruda listened to his lawyer through a Portuguese translator Tuesday, as Jason Dos Santos addressed the jury during closing arguments at Vertentes-Arruda’s first-degree murder trial.

Dos Santos argued his client is not guilty of the first-degree murder of his mother-in-law Maria Correia, though “he has admitted he is guilty of manslaughter.”

The 61-year-old Brampton, Ont., woman perished on Dec. 4, 2020 in an arson fire, but Dos Santos said his client was not aware of the consequences of his actions, because he was suffering from “a substance abuse psychotic disorder” at the time.

Vertentes-Arruda is also charged with five counts of attempted murder.

Dos Santos said on the night of the fire, and the night prior to that, Vertentes-Arruda displayed bizarre behaviour. The husband and father of three testified in his own defence that he was high on cocaine and crystal methamphetamine that night.

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Emergency officials were called to a home at 148 Martindale Cres. in Brampton, just before 4 a.m. for a fire. Christine Vertentes-Arruda testified that she was sleeping in her parent’s house with the couple’s three young daughters, when she woke up to the sound of glass breaking.

She walked down the hallway and found Helder with a red gas can in his hand. She told the jury that her husband then doused her with gasoline and set her on fire.

She testified that she told her family to get out, managed to get the burning t-shirt off, extinguished the fire from her arms, pants and feet, then went outside where Helder hit and kicked her with a metal object until she was down on the ground.

Christine told the jury that Helder said, “This is what you deserve,” before he ran off. By then, the fire had spread everywhere. Christine was taken to hospital and learned her mother had been found dead in the home. Thankfully, the couple’s children, and Christine’s father, managed to escape.

Police went to the basement apartment on Oakdene Street where Helder had been living with his wife and children around 6:15 a.m. that day and arrested the 33-year-old as he arrived home. During an interview with police, he admitted to setting the fire, claiming Christine was to blame for his actions because she had been cheating on him.

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Two nights prior to the deadly fire, Christine testified that she arrived home to find her husband high and said he was convinced she had a boyfriend in the house. She testified her husband had relapsed and was acting paranoid. He had not been using cocaine for a while, but it was something he had struggled with for years and had been the reason the couple had split before. He had always convinced her he would change, and she would take him back.

Helder also testified he needed help. Police were called and Helder was charged with possession of cocaine before he was taken to hospital to be checked out. According to Dos Santos, officers who testified during the trial said Helder appeared delusional, agitated and rushed in speech.

That night, Christine took the children and went to her parent’s home.

On Dec. 3, 2020, it happened again. “He believes people are in the house. He tells the landlord to call police. He believed his wife was having an affair and wanted to hurt him. A search was done, and nothing found,” Dos Santos explained, pointing to the testimony of a forensic psychiatrist, Dr Andrew Wang, who testified his drug use on the day in question would have contributed to his psychosis, hallucinations and delusions. It was something he said Christine had never seen before.

Police were again called in. Dos Santos said according to one officer’s testimony, it was “a volatile situation and he wants to make sure the potential target of this unpredictable person is safe.”

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The court has heard that the couple married in 2009, had three daughters and things were good in the marriage until 2017 when Christine began seeing changes in Helder’s behaviour. After confronting him, he admitted to using cocaine.

On the stand, Dos Santos said Helder had a particularly bad memory about the events that happened that night but said he went to his in-law’s home to get his Jeep, which his wife had taken away from him.

“What happened with Christine, it was something dangerous. I put gasoline on her arm, but the intention wasn’t… one thing’s for sure, everyone could have died. I loved my family. I loved my daughters, but when it happened, when I saw those big flames, I was like, ‘Oof’, my heart almost came out of the mouth,” Dos Santos read to the jury from a court transcript.

“I never imagined the house would burn down and when someone told me my mother-in-law died, I didn’t believe it,” Dos Santos continued, saying his client was confused and remembered he lost control and mistreated Christine.

“I saw the pictures. Her black eye. I saw the burn. I thought to myself, ‘I did all this?’ This is the most violent I’ve been in my life. Everyone could have died.'”

The Crown will give its closing address to the jury on Wednesday before the judge is expected to charge the jury.

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Deliberations could begin by Thursday.

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