March 27, 2015 - 6:30 PM
"YOU KNOW DAMN WELL THERE IS NO .357 THERE — YOU SENT THEM ON A WILD GOOSE CHASE."
PENTICTON - Crown Prosecutor Frank Dubenski hammered accused murderer John Ike Koopmans during cross examination today with questions about a missing handgun Koopmans said he disposed of long before a similar weapon was used once kill two people in Princeton in 2012.
Koopmans already admitted he once owned a Smith & Wesson .357 magnum, just like the one found in the Similkameen River in October, 2013, near where the murders occurred. Koopmans faces two charges of second degree murder in the deaths of Keith Wharton and Rose Fox, and the attempted murder of Bradley Martin on an industrial property on Old Hedley Road near Princeton on March 30, 2013.
The gun in question was an unlicensed weapon Koopmans said he purchased at an estate sale in Langley around 2002. During a party at his property on Highway 5A north of Princeton in 2005, police were called after he and his guests were heard firing weapons, court heard. He managed to hide the illegal weapon from the police that night, but said he feared getting caught with an unlicensed weapon, and cut the handgun into two pieces in 2007. He said the pieces of the gun remained on his property along with a huge collection of other assorted items including a number of old vehicles.
Koopmans admitted not declaring the weapon after a January, 2005 peace bond issued against him required him to surrender all firearms.
Jurors in the case also heard that during Koopman’s preliminary hearing in February 2014, he gave police consent to look for the pieces of the gun on his property, pointing out the location on an aerial photo. Police failed to find the weapon. Koopmans said many of the items on his property were moved since his incarceration, as friends had been out to the property to tidy it up.
“People have been looking for two years, and you’re just trying to be helpful, that's one way to look at it,” Dubenski said. “Another way to look at it is to say you know damn well there is no .357 there — you sent them on a wild goose chase.”
Dubenski also questioned why ammunition for the handgun was found in a chair at Koopmans’ girlfriends’ residence the morning following the shootings. A holster was also found in the house. Koopmans had no explanation. He said the ammunition was normally stored in a suitcase in his home on Highway 5A.
“You never fired the weapon after 2005, and you weren’t curious as to where the ammunition went?” asked Dubenski.
He said blood spatters and DNA from victim Keith Wharton, found on Koopmans' pants, got there days before the shootings. Koopmans and Wharton were cleaning up a spilled transport load of lumber when a large splinter pierced Wharton’s gloved hand, he said. Koopmans said he helped Wharton get the splinter out, causing the wound to bleed profusely. Wharton’s dog was nearby, licked up some of the blood and sneezed.
“It was all over me,” Koopmans said.
He also explained what he did the night of the murders, admitting to having a drunken argument with his girlfriend, Elaine Hoiland. After storming out of the house, he went for a walk, intending to go to Keith Wharton’s, he said. When he got there, the house was dark, so he decided to continue walking to another friend’s house further east down Old Hedley Road. He said he walked four or five miles to the house, only to find it in darkness as well. He retraced his steps back to the Wharton property, where he fell asleep in a camper he often used, located in back of the property. It was there he was discovered by police the following afternoon.
Koopmans denied he had issues with Wharton and Fox in the days before the murders. He said he did not blame Wharton for a break-in that occurred on his property a month before the murders. The Crown said that argument was his motive for killing them, but Koopmans said it was no big deal.
“The police and Keith told me he had nothing to do with it. I was satisfied.”
Koopmans said it bothered him greatly to see Keith selling items from the Wharton property, such as furniture and shop equipment, to pay for his drug habit. He also admitted to buying drugs for Wharton from Bradley Martin, who he said was dealing in drugs.
He said he was aware both Wharton and Fox had a drug problem, but they were friends he was trying to help.
“I’d suggest you didn’t care," Dubenski said. "He was losing everything on the property, and that’s what you cared about.”
For more stories on the Koopmans murder trial, click here.
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