What started as a squabble between Penticton neighbours ended in a rampage that saw four people lose their lives.
John Brittain pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in a Kelowna courtroom on Wednesday, Oct. 14, for killing four of his ex-wife Katherine Brittain’s neighbours — Susan and Barry Wonch, Rudi Winter and Darlene Knippelberg, all of whom were in their 60s and 70s — in April 2019.
Sentencing submissions commenced immediately after Brittain made his pleas and Crown spent much of the morning explaining the circumstances behind the broad-daylight shooting.
Following their 2012 separation, Crown counsel Colin Forsyth said Brittain and his ex-wife maintained a relationship. Brittain would often visit his wife in the home they formerly occupied together on Cornwall Drive, sometimes on a daily basis. Over time, the two developed issues with Katherine’s neighbours.
Katherine would often tell her husband of her grievances with her neighbours, including a tree being cut down, smoke pouring from a chimney towards her property and said she felt ‘bullied’ by those living next door.
Over the years, those issues came to a tipping point on April 15, 2019.
Brittain spotted Winter outside his rental home that morning, which was located in downtown Penticton. Winter was helping a friend with some housework.
He loaded a gun, walked across the street and called out to Winter. As he was turning around, Brittain shot him five times — the last of which was to his head.
He then drove to Cornwall Drive, approached the garage door of the Wonch residence with another gun and knocked. Barry and Susan Wonch were inside. He shot both of them twice, Crown said.
Taking the same gun, he went to Knippelberg’s home, knocked on her door and shot her three times.
Brittain then drove to the Penticton RCMP detachment to turn himself in. He the woman working the front desk at the detachment that he was “the guy who just shot four people.”
He told police he “snapped” when he saw Winter outside his home after years of hearing his ex-wife complain about her neighbours — and realized he had the means to end it.
“I destroyed a lot of people’s lives today,” Forsyth said Brittain told an officer questioning him later that day, telling officers he did it to stop them from bothering Katherine.
Family members of the Wonches, Winter and Knippelberg took the stand on Wednesday, sharing heart-wrenching accounts of what they’ve gone through in the past 18 months.
Renate Winter told the court in a victim impact statement that her 71-year-old husband was a humble, kind and hard-working person who died a brutal and violent death.
The couple’s daughter, Tanya Steele, said she heard shots on the morning of her father’s murder but had no idea he was the target.
“He took away my rock. He took away my sense of feeling safe,” she said, sobbing.
At the end of her statement, Steele confronted Brittain directly with an accusation.
“We know (Katherine) made you do it, you should just man up and tell the truth,” she said.
Brittain interjected, “Kathy had nothing to do with this. You have no facts.”
“My dad is dead, that’s the fact,” Steele responded.
Brittain maintained that the murders were his decision alone.
“I did it, 100 per cent. She wasn’t there,” he told Mounties. “They, for reasons of their own, could not stop picking on her.”
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 terms before parole ineligibility to be served consecutively.
Sentencing continues Thursday.
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