John Brittain, the man who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting that killed four Penticton residents last year, took the stand as sentencing submissions concluded today (Oct. 15) offering a brief explanation of his actions and an apology to those impacted by them.
Brittain pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree and one count of second-degree murder yesterday (Oct. 14) in a Kelowna courtroom for the murders of four of his ex-wife Kathrine Brittain’s neighbours — Susan and Barry Wonch, Rudi Winter and Darlene Knippelberg, all of whom were in their 60s and 70s — on April 15, 2019.
He told the court he had no idea that day would turn into such a tragedy for three families, himself, his ex-wife and the City of Penticton.
“I tragically disrupted so many lives,” he told Justice Allison Beames between long pauses as sobs poured from the families sitting in the courtroom’s gallery.
Four work-related burnouts and several major depressions were, as Brittain described, the “basis of the catastrophe” that led to a deteriorating physical and mental health. This resulted in a final mental breakdown that saw him snap, killing the four neighbours who he said “bullied” his ex-wife.
“I reacted to images and threats that were not real.”
Brittain addressed the court to offer direct apologies to his ex-wife, the families of the victims and the emergency personnel.
Speaking directly to the families of the victims, Brittain said he was “shattered and devastated” over what he’s done.
“I have no understanding of what caused me to lose all restraint and perspective, which resulted in their untimely and tragic death,” he said. “I also apologize for the stain I have put on the name of the city of Penticton and contributing to the unnecessary anxiety of its citizens.”
Lastly, Brittain apologized to emergency responders who were the first to see the gruesome scenes he left in his trail.
“I’m sure what you saw and had to deal with that day was not what you ever wanted to see when you entered your professions.
“I see these images in my head. They will torment me for the rest of my life. It is my wish you will be healed and not further traumatized by this event.”
Both first- and second-degree murder convictions carry a life sentence. A prisoner serving time for first-degree murder must wait 25 years before applying for parole and between 10 and 25 years for second-degree murder. The Crown is seeking those sentences to be served consecutively, amounting to 40 years before Brittain would be eligible for parole.
Brittain’s defence lawyer, Paul McMurray is seeking all sentences to be served concurrently, which would see Brittain serve the minimum 25 years prior to parole eligibility. McMurray’s argued the killings, which took place in the span of 35 minutes, shouldn’t be treated as separate incidents and as such shouldn’t be sentenced consecutively. He noted that Brittain would be, at the youngest, 92 years old when he becomes eligible for parole — and having that release granted would be a whole new unlikely hurdle to jump.
McMurray argued Brittain’s guilty plea saved the exposure of several wounds being reopened and publicized.
“It would’ve laid bare a lot of personal issues,” McMurray submitted.
McMurray described Brittain as a man of education, holding an engineering degree and a project management diploma. He lived and worked across Canada and as far as Africa.
However, a psychological report provided to the court indicated those living situations may have had a detrimental effect on Brittain’s personal life contributing to his feeling of social isolation.
Attempting to provide some insight into Brittain’s mindset at the time of the killings, McMurray described Brittain’s profession as an engineer as one of problem-solving and fixing things.
“It’s fair to say that dealing with problems as an engineer, as a scientist, things are capable of being fixed,” McMurray said. “But dealing with relationships and relationships with other people, dealing with human beings who are not always subject to fixing, requires a different skillset — one that it’s fair to say, Mr. Brittain was lacking.”
McMurray suggested that Brittain was trying to solve his ex-wife’s neighbour problems, and felt that all other options besides killing them were taken off the table.
“Now of course he was wrong, there were other options,” McMurray said. “But in his state of mind, he did not see it.”
BC Supreme Court Justice Allison Beames said she’d like to give her decision today. She will be back at 3:15 p.m. when she will either deliver her sentence or schedule another time to do so.
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