VANCOUVER — A British Columbia man who killed five people when he doused his former friend’s house with gasoline and set it on fire, later confessing during an elaborate “Mr. Big” undercover operation, has lost an appeal of his murder convictions.
Nathan Fry was convicted in October 2008 of five counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, receiving a mandatory term of life with no parole for at least 25 years.
Fry targeted the house of Bolingo Etibako in May 2006. The pair were friends until Etibako, then 16, implicated Fry in a pair of stabbings. The fire killed four members of Etibako’s family and his girlfriend, while Bolingo Etibako survived.
Fry was swept up in a so-called Mr. Big scheme in 2007, in which undercover officers spent months convincing him he was a rising star in a national criminal organization.
At the climax of such operations, the crime boss — or, Mr. Big — attempts to elicit a confession from the unwitting accused. The 2008 trial watched video of Fry telling the fictitious crime boss that he had bought fuel from a gas station, broke a window at the Etibako home, dumped the gasoline and used a torch to ignite the blaze.
In his appeal, Fry argued the judge in the case failed to instruct the jury to treat his confession with “care and caution,” given the circumstances of the Mr. Big operation. Fry argued this was particularly important because there was a lack of forensic or other evidence linking him to the arson.
The three-member appeal panel dismissed that argument.
“The judge’s instructions were appropriately tailored to the manner in which the confession was obtained during the ’Mr. Big’ operation,” says the decision, posted to the Appeal Court’s website Thursday.
“The judge’s instructions to the jury were sufficient in the circumstances.”
Fry also argued the judge gave the jury improper instructions on how to assess the credibility of witnesses and on the distinction between first-degree murder and manslaughter, but the Appeal Court rejected both of those arguments, as well.