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Winnipeg woman pleads guilty to setting fire that killed five

A fire gutted rooming house in which five people died sits boarded up in the Point Douglas area of Winnipeg Tuesday, September 27, 2011

John Woods/The Globe and Mail

A Winnipeg woman has pleaded guilty to setting a rooming house fire that killed five people.

Lulonda Flett, 41, admitted Monday to setting the July 2011 blaze at a two-storey home in Winnipeg's Point Douglas district. Wearing a sweatsuit and leg cuffs, her face almost expressionless, Flett was asked by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Brenda Keyser whether she understood what was going on in court.

"By pleading guilty ... you're acknowledging that you set the fire," Keyser said.

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"Yes," Flett responded.

"You appreciate that you're going to go to jail for a long time?" Keyser asked later.

"Yes," Flett answered.

Flett was originally charged with five counts of second-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and arson. Under an agreement with the Crown, she pleaded guilty to five counts of manslaughter and one count of arson.

Police said at the time of her arrest that Flett had been in a dispute with someone in the rooming house, had left, and then returned to set the fire.

Flett's lawyer said his client did not intend to kill anyone.

"I think once the facts are laid out before the court, when we return [for sentencing], you'll have a better understanding of the lack of intent in this case and the other circumstances that make manslaughter the appropriate charge," Darren Sawchuk said outside court.

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Flett faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A sentencing hearing was set for March 21. Sawchuk would not say what sentence he will seek.

Court was told a Gladue report — a pre-sentence assessment for aboriginal offenders — will be prepared before the March date. Gladue reports are based on a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that said judges should take an aboriginal offender's background into account for sentencing.

Flett is originally from a remote First Nation, Sawchuk said.

"She's from a remote northern community and she doesn't have much of a history with the courts, so this whole event today is in some ways probably a relief to her that we're moving the matter forward," he said.

"It's a tragic case. It's a terrible case and my client has accepted responsibility for the role she played in it."

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