'I see these images in my head and they will torment me for the rest of my life,' Penticton mass murderer tells court | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'I see these images in my head and they will torment me for the rest of my life,' Penticton mass murderer tells court

John Brittain, shown here shortly after his arrest in April, was back in court today as Crown filed an application for a non-communication order between Brittain and his ex-wife today, June 7, 2019.
October 15, 2020 - 12:27 PM

John Brittain says he was responding to "threats and images that were not real" last year when he gunned down four people in Penticton.

"I had no idea, nor did anyone else that April 15, 2019 would turn into a horrific day for three families, myself, (ex-wife) Kathy and citizens of Penticton. I tragically disrupted so many lives," he told the court, breaking down at times in tears.

Brittain has pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder and is being sentenced in a Kelowna Supreme courtroom. His lawyer is asking that the life sentence for each crime be served concurrently, while Crown is asking for consecutive sentences. The bare minimum would see Brittain out of prison at no age younger than 92 years old.

As sentencing submissions came to an end, Brittain offered an apology to his ex-wife first, saying she had no idea what he would do that day. Then to the families of his victims, he said he was truly sorry for shattering their lives. Even to the emergency workers who had to deal with the aftermath of his crime and the citizens of Penticton, he offered apologies.

"I see these images (of the crime) in my head and 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," he said, addressing emergency responders.  

READ MORE: ‘I’m the guy who just shot four people,’ Penticton mass murderer told police minutes after last killing

The basis of this tragedy, he said, was spread out over 20 years with four successive workplace burnouts and major depressions that led to deteriorating physical and mental health.

From start to finish, Brittain's murderous spree "was an hour of madness," defence lawyer Paul McMurray told the court and it was an abrupt departure from the life he'd lived.

"It's not that he consciously thought about (his actions) in a logical, rational fashion from A to B to C to D," McMurray told the court. "I think the only explanation that I can offer (is as a layperson) but it seems apparent that Mr. Brittain did snap."

McMurray told the court that Brittain saw the neighbours as a part of a problem he was struggling with, "and decided to solve" it.

The problem related to his marriage, and in the lead up to the murders, Brittain was in counselling "with a view to try to sort out how to deal with his relationship with Katherine Brittain."

McMurray said he was seeking guidance as to whether should try to work to improve the relationship, continue it or exit and he was discussing means by which he could deal with either option.

"One of the factors that he felt made it difficult to exit the relationship at that time was his perception of the ongoing effect that the relationships with the neighbours were having on Katherine Brittain," McMurray said.

Brittain was in his mid-60s at the time that this incident occurred and "was a man of some education" but seemed to be lacking when it came to social skills.

He has a degree in engineering and a diploma in project management. In his working life, he lived in various areas in Canada, and in West Africa, with a focus on First Nations communities in Canada, and North Africa addressing issues like water management.

He's also an accomplished musician.

A psychological assessment presented to the court indicated that what drove Brittain forward professionally had a drawback. He suffereed from major depressive incidents, driven by excessive work and self-isolation in remote communities.

He also had obsessive-compulsive traits and suffered from self-doubts.

He had few strong social bonds.

"He has not had close relationships in isolated circumstances," he said.

As an engineer and a scientist, he looked at difficulties, including those relationships, with an eye to what needed to be fixed. 

"(Relationships) require a different skillset... it's fair to say that this component was lacking," he said.

In the spring of 2019, McMurray said, Brittain was experiencing major depression as a result of dissatisfaction with his work.

He was concerned about the effect of the neighbourhood conflict on his partner, Katherine Brittain. He felt, in that murderous spree, the need to resolve the situation.

"Now of course he was wrong, there were other options," McMurray said. "But in his state of mind, he did not see it."

Not until it was too late, that is. McMurray,  told the court that Brittain heard a voice in his head saying "you have to stop" and that's when he took himself to police and surrendered and he's been grappling to make sense of his choices that day, ever since.

According to the psychological assessment, McMurray said the chances he'd ever do such a thing again were infinitesimal.

Yesterday, Crown prosecutor Colin Forsyth said Brittain shot and killed the four people who were all, in one form or another, part of various neighbourhood disputes. He said he thought his ex-wife was being "bullied". He told police when he saw one of his neighbours, Rudi Winter, he grabbed a rifle, loaded it, walked across the street and shot him five times.

Then Brittain drove to a nearby Bank of Montreal, withdrew some cash and drove to Cornwall Drive where Barry and Susan Wonch lived. He found them in their garage and shot them multiple times from six feet away.

Brittain walked down their driveway to the home of neighbour Darlene Knippelberg. He knocked, and when she answered he shot her twice before driving to the Penticton RCMP detachment and turning himself in.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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