'I TOLD THE POLICE TO PLEASE GO HELP MY SON, HE'S STILL BREATHING....'
PENTICTON - Jurors in the John Ike Koopmans murder trial heard dramatic testimony today, Feb. 3, as the mother of shooting victim Keith Wharton described finding her son and his girlfriend dead in their Princeton trailer.
Carol Wharton’s voice broke as she fought to control herself on the witness stand in Penticton Courthouse Tuesday, March 3 as she testified on events leading up to her discovery of her murdered son and his girlfriend at 331 Old Hedley Road on March 30, 2013.
Wharton appeared calm and controlled as Crown prosecutor Frank Dubenski asked her to describe what happened that day on the Old Hedley Road property. She said nothing unusual occurred. She was ready for bed around 8 p.m., not yet asleep at approximately 9:30 p.m. when she heard “two loud bangs, close together.”
“I didn’t relate them to gun shots at the time,” she said, adding they startled her enough to investigate.
She got out of bed, slipped on shoes and a jacket and went outside to investigate.
She had access to the modular home and went inside, where in the bedroom she found the bodies of her son, Keith and Rose Fox.
“I went to the bedroom. That’s when I discovered the bodies. I touched Rose. I was sure she was dead, but I thought my son was still breathing. There was a gurgling sound in his throat. I ran out of the house, but turned around and went back for the cell phone we shared,” she said.
After exiting for the second time, without finding her cell phone, Wharton ran towards the road, tripping on the way. She saw Bradley Martin, leaning against a telephone pole and discovered a number of police at the end of the driveway.
"I told the police to please go help my son, he’s still breathing,” she continued, voice breaking. “But they wouldn’t go in. The property wasn’t secure.”
She was eventually transported by ambulance to the Princeton hospital, where family members picked her up in the morning.
Wharton is the first civilian witness to take the stand following several days of expert police testimony describing the murder scene and evidence found to the 12 member jury.
She told court she and husband Tom Wharton purchased the industrial property after Tom’s retirement. The couple operated a welding shop along with son Keith, but after Tom’s death in 2011, the business went downhill rapidly. Eventually Carol Wharton was forced to declare bankruptcy, and by the time of the murders in March of 2013, assets were being sold off as part of an effort to clean up the property prior to listing it.
It was against this backdrop of “a difficult financial situation” as Wharton put it, that the shooting took place.
Several trailers and a modular home occupied the property. Carol Wharton lived in a fifth wheel trailer, while her son Keith and his girlfriend Rosemary Fox lived in a modular home, also on the property.
For a period of time six months prior to the shootings, accused John Koopmans also resided on the property, staying in a camper. Victim Bradley Martin, who was wounded in the shooting, also lived on the property, staying in the modular home along with Keith and Rose.
Koopmans owned a piece of property between Hedley and Merritt, but had a reputation as a pack rat, to the point where the regional district had begun to enforce a clean up order.
“He was a hoarder - 11 acres of junk and cars buried,” described defence lawyer Don Skogstad.
Koopmans relocated some of his items to the Wharton property, but when their financial situation became dire, Koopmans was told he needed to remove his property.
In the days leading up to the shootings, Wharton said the relationship between Koopmans and Keith began to break down. There were disputes over who owned what regarding the many pieces of equipment sitting on the Wharton property, to the point police were called to resolve the issue.
The police intervention appeared to have helped the two men resolve their differences over property, and from time to time Koopmans came back to the property to sort out items that belonged to him.
“There was no more friendship. It was more of an unhappy relationship,” Wharton recalled of the time, though she admitted she only saw Koopmans appear heated on one occasion.
On cross-examination, defence lawyer Don Skogstad asked Wharton about her relationship with Rose, to which Wharton replied it was “negative.” Skogstad described Fox as a lazy, unfit mother who smoked marijuana at the start and end of each day.
Wharton admitted she suspected Fox to take other drugs as well, admitting she told her son she thought he could do better. Skogstad told Wharton he had information tying Fox to another boyfriend on the west side of Princeton.
Skogstad asked Wharton if money from sales of some of the equipment on the property was being directed towards payment of drug debt, to which Wharton answered after a lengthy pause: “I believe a certain amount was for drug debts.”
Skogstad also described Koopmans as a skilled worker who often helped Keith in his welding enterprise, often for little pay.
Bradley Martin, who was wounded in the shootings, is expected to take the stand tomorrow.
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