PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – A homeless woman who was viciously attacked and set on fire says it will take time for her to forgive her attacker after he was handed a 16-year prison sentence Friday.
Leslie Black had pleaded guilty to attempted murder in the beating, burning and sexual assault of Marlene Bird in an alley in Prince Albert, Sask., in 2014. Her injuries were so serious both legs had to be amputated and she lost much of her eyesight.
“I’m doing my best, because my mom told me to forgive people that do wrong,” Bird said outside court after sentencing.
“I think I could forgive him.”
Judge Stanley Loewen gave Black credit of four years, eight months for time already served, so he faces about 11 years in prison. Loewen also ordered that Black be supervised for 10 years after he gets out because of the “bizarre” nature of the attack.
“This is the end of a very long and arduous process,” Loewen said. “Everybody can get on with their lives.”
The Crown had argued for life in prison, while the defence asked for 15 years.
Court previously heard that after the attack, Black walked to a nearby 7-Eleven and bought candy. He then walked past Bird, who was still on fire, and ignored her.
It was several hours before she was discovered, barely clinging to life, with burns so severe they exposed her facial bones and one foot attached only by a piece of skin.
Before he was sentenced, Black made eye contact with Bird and said he was “truly sorry” for the attack.
“I still can’t forgive myself for what I’ve done,” Black said. “I apologize for what I did, and if I could undo the past I would … I’m truly sorry.”
Bird said she was satisfied with the 16-year sentence and, although it was painful to hear, she said she felt Black’s apology was sincere.
“I liked that apology,” Bird said. “It feels good. I don’t have to have bad dreams, I hope.”
Bird told court earlier this year that she can’t do anything on her own now, including simple things such as picking a blueberry or going to the bathroom.
In handwritten letters filed with the court, Bird said she has to wear adult diapers, can’t control her bowels and feels disgusted with herself when she can’t make it to the bathroom in time. Bird said she also fears entering the city because of the attack.
At a March court hearing to determine whether he should be deemed a dangerous offender, Black said that if he could go back to the night he attacked Bird, he would have taken his father’s advice and stayed home.
In a brief statement he read at that hearing, despite a stutter he has had since witnessing his mother’s murder when he was nine years old, Black said he was not a violent person and wanted to get the help he needs to succeed in life.
A psychiatrist told the dangerous offender hearing that Black has at least eight separate conditions, including antisocial personality disorder, childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and suspected fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
One psychologist testified Black is not necessarily at a high risk to reoffend if he gets intensive, long-term therapy. Another psychiatrist testified that officials can’t presume to understand what Black is capable of given what he did to Bird, even though he had no history of violence.
In August, Loewen ruled Black’s risk to reoffend could be managed in the community, so the judge did not designate him a dangerous offender.