UNIVERSITY of Newcastle chemistry student Evan Francis Barnes pledged to “leave no trace” when he set fire to his ex-partner’s Waratah home in May last year.
Suffering from undiagnosed bipolar disorder, Barnes had “grandiose ideas”, derived from his university study and knowledge of chemistry, that he could commit a crime and get away with it.
“I could easily burn the house down and leave no trace because I am a chemist,” Barnes told a friend in March last year.
The on May 14, Barnes put his plan in place.
He was right about leaving little to no trace. Fire has a habit of destroying evidence.
But it was his comments before the fire and in the immediate aftermath that would lead to his downfall.
Barnes, 32, of Mayfield, sent Facebook messages to at least three friends in the hours after his ex-partner’s Ada Street home was severely damaged by fire, telling them: “I set my house on fire. Just kidding. There does seem to be something burning near my house, though. Big plume of smoke. I promised her I would never do that.” Barnes also told one person: “I have several alibis” and “now I can actually focus on study”.
When asked why he had lit the fire, Barnes replied: “Because I could. And I needed an end to the stress. I’m so chill now.”
And on Thursday, after pleading guilty to two counts of intentionally or recklessly damaging property by fire, he was jailed for a maximum of two-and-a-half years in Newcastle District Court.
Judge Tanya Bright ordered he serve a non-parole period of one year and three months, making him eligible for parole in September, 2019. And while those comments on Facebook messenger all but convicted Barnes, they also revealed something about his state of mind around the time of the fire.
Solicitor Kathleen Stroinovsky told Judge Bright last week that there was a number of reports that confirmed Barnes was mentally ill at the time. The court heard Barnes was scheduled on May 12, last year – two days before he set fire to his ex-girlfriend’s house in Waratah.
He was found to be mentally ill and involuntary admission was recommended, but Barnes left the hospital.
Ultimately, it was a balancing act for Judge Bright, having to weigh up his strong subjective material against the seriousness of the offence.
But she was left with no other option than to send him to jail.
Barnes was also sentenced for a number of drug and weapon offences, after police found knives strapped to his right hip and right ankle when they arrested him at the university campus.