At the High Court yesterday, Judge Colin Doherty sentenced him on three counts of arson and two counts of burglary.
The 18-year-old was found guilty of setting fire to the Arorangi Friendly Mart, the Betela Tex Mart and the Avarua Raro Mart, all in the space of three weeks last year.
It was only after a jury found him gulty of setting the fires that he then admitted two additional burglary charges: he and his associates had broken into two homes in Titikaveka on February 22 this year, stealing a laptop and cash.
Crown prosecutor Kathy Bell said the fresh charges were committed while Tonorio was on probation – his sentence for yet another burglary.
His arsons had caused extensive damage to the shops, she said, but worse, they could have taken someone’s life.
His motive in starting the first was to cover burglaries he’d already committed, she said.
Defence counsel Norman George said his client disagreed with the three guilty verdicts.
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Tonorio was only 18, working at his father’s plantation to help his parents, George said. The family was in no position to pay reparation, but requested the court’s leniency.
In sentencing Tonorio, Judge Doherty said it was fair to conclude that the defendant broke into the premises with the intent to steal alcohol and cash in Friendly Mart. For the Tex Mart and Raro Mart, his motive remained unclear as all evidence had been destroyed by the blazes.
The judge said it was fair to conclude that Tonorio decided to burn the places down to destroy any evidence, such as security cameras, that might show he was on the property.
The fires had caused monetary and emotional distress to the owners of the properties, their employees and the community.
The judge said Friendly Mart’s owner had taken out a substantial loan for the property, and now suffered from stress and anxiety. Property records and land records were also damaged.
For Tex Mart, the total cost of damage was in excess of $450,000 and it caused the owner sadness, anger and to suffer from anxiety.
Judge Doherty said it was just luck that the employee who had been sleeping in the Tex Mart building at the time of the fire was not killed. This employee, too suffered from sleepless nights and stress.
For Raro Mart, damages cost $3 million.
Judge Doherty said Tonorio had no hope of repaying anything to the property owners. Both his defence counsel and Probation Services reported that he continued to deny responsibility for the fires.
For each arson charge, Tonorio could have faced 14 years’ imprisonment, and 10 years for each burglary. Instead, Judge Doherty reduced the sentence due to the arsonist’s youth.
Tonorio appeared to have been brought up by a loving family, the judge said, and this showed in the alibi they provided.
But yesterday, family members were in disbelief at the jury’s decision.