March 25, 2015 - 6:03 PM
PENTICTON - Police arriving on scene following a report of a double homicide in Princeton found themselves overwhelmed by a chaotic scene, court was told Wednesday.
A police officer who acted as primary investigator for the homicides said he found the suspected murder weapon and produced for the jury today, March 25, photographic evidence that placed John Ike Koopmans in the vicinity at the time. Koopmans is on trial for second-degree murder in the deaths of Robert Wharton, 44, and Rose Fox, 32. He is also charged with attempted murder of Bradley Martin. The bodies of the victims were discovered on a property on Old Hedley Road adjacent the Weyerhaeuser mill near Princeton in early 2013.
RCMP Const. Anthony Pankratz said he arrived on scene within minutes of being notified of the homicides around 9:35 p.m. One other officer was already on scene upon his arrival, along with an ambulance where Bradley Martin, who was shot and wounded in the incident, was being treated.
Pankratz said they found it difficult to manage the scene with so few officers. He recalled the two officers and medical personnel having issues controlling a dog that was insistent on jumping in and out of the ambulance, describing the dog as “quite agitated.”
Carol Wharton, Keith Wharton's mother, was also at the scene in a police cruiser.
“She was hysterical, upset, beside herself,” he said.
Pankratz asked Martin who shot him, to which Martin replied, “John - John with the guns.”
“I knew immediately who he was referring to,” Pankratz told the court.
The officers requested help and attempted to maintain surveillance on the property. He said based on information received from Carol Wharton, the officers felt there were no lives to be saved by going into the residence with such low manpower.
Additional officers began arriving around midnight—almost three hours later. Four officers entered the Wharton property and made a sweep of the grounds. Pankratz said he looked inside the bedroom window of the double-wide trailer and saw two bodies on the bed. The officers then began a search inside the various buildings and trailers on site, eventually confirming two deceased, but no sign of Koopmans.
Pankratz left the Wharton residence at 3:33 a.m., returning to the property the following day around noon to assist in the apprehension of Koopmans, who had been discovered following a further search of the property by the RCMP dog unit.
He described finding Koopmans, laying on the over-cab bed of a camper located near the rear of the property. He said Koopmans complied with RCMP instructions to move slowly and to keep his hands visible, but also noticed that he appeared to be in “distress.”
“He had difficulty getting down on the ground,” Pankratz said, noting Koopmans' pants were down, halfway between his waist and his knees. As police handcuffed Koopmans and pulled his pants up, Pankratz noted Koopmans movements “seemed to be laboured,” describing his behaviour similar to that of someone who was exhausted from overworking.
Crown Prosecutor Frank Dubenski asked if Pankratz “smelled anything” as Koopmans was exiting the camper.
“It was an old camper, the smell wasn’t pleasant - it was cluttered,” Pankratz answered.
“Did he defecate?”asked Dubenski.
“I don’t know, but the smell was quite strong,” answered Pankratz.
Dubenski also asked whether Pankratz smelled alcohol on the suspect.
“Alcohol? It never crossed my mind at the time. There was no odour of alcohol - I would say his body was under some form of stress,” answered Pankratz.
Southeast District Major Crime Unit member Cpl. Darren Kakuno also took the stand Wednesday to discuss evidence found on Koopmans' boots and present a video recorded by Weyerhaeuser of Old Hedley Road at the company’s entrance.
Kakuno discovered leaves found on the soles of Koopmans’ boots were those of a black cottonwood, similar to trees found in the vicinity of the murders on the banks of the Similkameen River. He noted footprints found at the scene indicated an individual’s hike to the river and back through the Weyerhaeuser log yard, which was adjacent the Wharton property.
Kakuno said he believed the footprints to be evidence of the murderer's attempt to get rid of the murder weapon by throwing it in the river.
Underwater searches by RCMP dive teams were attempted in July and October of 2013, and on October 15 divers retrieved a .357 magnum handgun from the approximate location Kakuno theorized it might be.
Jurors were subjected to an hour-long surveillance video taken of the front entrance to the Weyerhaeuser mill yards, showing a segment of Old Hedley Road.
Over the course of roughly one hour on Saturday, March 30, 2013, an early portion of the video showed a single man walking east on Old Hedley Road. Jurors watched as a man and woman could be seen several minutes later walking in a westerly direction towards Princeton. Over the course of the video, several cars and trucks could be seen heading in either direction. Near the end of the screening, police and ambulance vehicles were seen speeding in the direction of the Wharton property, within a few minutes of each other.
“I believe the man walking in the video was Mr. Koopmans walking to the scene,” Kakuno told the jury. He said police made attempts to locate the male and female seen walking in the video as well as those in the vehicles, but came up empty handed.
The trial continues tomorrow.
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