Man given 15 months for arson that destroyed Edmonton home where homicide victim's body found

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Sometime before dawn on Jan. 23, 2022, an explosion erupted in the basement of a home in central Edmonton’s Eastwood neighbourhood.

Moments before, a trio had doused the brown bungalow with gasoline. As they left, one hurled a propane tank into the basement.

A badly burned body was pulled from the rubble later that morning.

Years later, one of the men at the property that night admitted his role in starting the fire.

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Cyrus Gladue, 20, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a single count of arson. He was sentenced to 15 months in jail followed by one year of probation on a joint recommendation from Crown and defence.

Gladue — one of four people charged in the arson/homicide — did not know the body of 32-year-old Thomas Richard Russell was inside, Crown prosecutor Marissa Tordoff said. But his failure to check “cuts both ways” when it comes to sentencing.

“There’s a recklessness there,” she told Court of King’s Bench Justice Denise Kiss.

Russell’s mother, spouse and son attended Tuesday’s hearing and described the pain of losing him in such a violent way.

Ashley Dechambre, his longtime partner, described how Gladue’s actions deprived them of the ability “to say goodbye to our loved one, kiss his cheek or forehead, tell him how much he’ll be missed.”

‘Uncle’ and ‘Cos’

According to an agreed statement of facts, Gladue and a man he knew as “Cos” filled two containers with gasoline the night before the arson. A man they called “Uncle” had paid Gladue in methamphetamine for running the errand.

While on their way to the home where they were staying, at 11845 79 St., the two were briefly detained by Edmonton police officers investigating a robbery. The police eventually determined they were uninvolved and let them go.

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Once they arrived at the house, Gladue took a nap. “Uncle” then ordered the pair, along with a 17-year-old boy Gladue had never met, to burn down the house at 11833 79 St.

“Gladue understood from the conversation that the reason for the arson was a pending eviction,” the agreed facts state.

The three walked to the house and poured the gasoline. As they left, Cos threw a propane tank into the basement. Gladue heard a “loud explosion” as he walked away and saw the house burst into flames.

Fire crews found Russell’s body the next morning, which was identifiable only by tattoos.

According to the agreed facts, the destroyed home belonged to Gina Cai, a developer who previously purchased properties from landlord and crime figure Abdullah Shah. The 11833 79 St. property once belonged to Shah, also known as Carmen Pervez, and was the subject of a police trespassing complaint to the Law Enforcement Review Board.

Shah was gunned down outside his home in early 2022. The homicide remains unsolved.

Man in the mirror

Gladue apologized in court for his actions. He said he was addicted to drugs at the time but is now nine months sober and hopes to be a father to his two children.

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“I just wish I could go back and change my mistakes and have a better future,” he said.

Naeem Rauf, Gladue’s lawyer, said his client experienced numerous forms of abuse and neglect growing up. He stopped attending school during the pandemic, with the “almost predictable” result of sliding into drug use, Rauf said. Before lighting the fire, Gladue had no criminal record.

Gladue had no idea Russell’s body was inside the home, Rauf added, nor did he play any role in his death. A medical examiner determined Russell was dead before the house burned.

In a victim impact statement, Dechambre described Russell as a man who struggled with addiction but never let his family forget he loved them.

She recalled a man with an “ear to ear smile” who loved to moonwalk to Michael Jackson. His favourite song was Man in the Mirror.

“He loved his son so much,” she said. “The drugs and streets got to him, but never (stopped) him from visiting, seeing him even if it was for a minute just to say, ‘Daddy loves you so much, remember that.’”

Tommy-Lee Russell told court his dad “meant the world” to him.

“You took more (than a house) away when you poured that gas,” he told Gladue. “Rest easy dad. Love, Tommy.”

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The three other people charged in the case continue to wind through the court system.

Kody Shortneck pleaded guilty to manslaughter and will have a sentencing hearing later this year. 

Jordan Suchodolski, who was charged with manslaughter, kidnapping with a firearm, interference with a body and arson, is scheduled for trial next spring.

The youth was acquitted but is facing an appeal by the Crown.

With credit for time in pre-trial custody, Gladue has around seven months left to serve.

The foundation of a house destroyed by an explosion i
The foundation of a house at 11833 79 St. destroyed by an explosion in early 2022 is surrounded by a fence adorned by a few dried roses on Tuesday, July 9, 2024. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

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