A man who shot four people to death in Penticton, B.C., over a neighbours’ dispute addressed the victims’ families in a tense sentencing hearing on Thursday, apologizing for murdering their loved ones and “shattering” their lives.
“I am truly, truly sorry for what I have done,” said John Brittain, speaking haltingly from the prisoner’s box in B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday. “I have disrupted so many lives.”
Brittain, 69, is set to be sentenced this afternoon after pleaded guilty Wednesday to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in connection with the shootings on April 15, 2019.
He killed Rudi Winter, Darlene Knippelberg and Susan and Barry Wonch at their homes, shooting each of them multiple times in less than an hour. Court has heard he believed the victims, who were all neighbours, had been harassing his estranged wife for years.
Brittain apologized first to her, his surviving former spouse, before addressing the victims’ families in the Kelowna, B.C., courtroom.
“To [my ex-wife], I want to apologize for this. She had no idea I would have done such a thing,” he said, taking lengthy pauses between sentences.
“To the families, my next apologies — I am shattered and devastated for what I have done.”
The families, sitting metres away behind a clear Plexiglas barrier, wiped away tears as Brittain spoke.
He said he had a breakdown before the shooting, attributing his mental state to the recent separation from his wife and 20 years of being overworked and depressed.
He ended his statement with an apology to the police officers who had to respond to the grisly crime scenes.
Brittain likely to die behind bars
Brittain will likely be in prison until he is at least 94 years old, as a first-degree murder conviction comes with an automatic life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.
He previously told the court he understands he will likely die behind bars.
His defence lawyer opened the hearing Thursday by acknowledging no sentence would comfort the spouses, children and families of the four seniors who were killed.
Still, the defence said Brittain’s unexpected decision to plead guilty this month should be a mitigating factor in his sentence, as it spared the families and community the pain of a month-long quadruple-murder trial.
The lawyer said Brittain’s age, lack of criminal history and decision to immediately turn himself in to police after the shootings should also be factors.
Brittain drove himself to the RCMP detachment in Penticton after killing Winter, then the Wonchs, then Knippelberg. He told police he wanted to turn himself in because he had just killed four people and told officers where to find the bodies.
Crown prosecutors had asked Justice Alison Beames to sentence Brittain to a life sentence without the chance of parole for 40 years — 10 years of parole ineligibility for each victim. The defence asked for 25 years before parole eligibility.