A former city worker has pleaded guilty to shooting four people to death in Penticton, B.C., last year, saying he “snapped” and shot the victims over a neighbourhood dispute involving his estranged wife.
John Brittain, 69, pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in B.C. Supreme Court in Kelowna on Wednesday.
Justice Alison Beames asked Brittain as he sat in the prisoner’s box before making his plea if he understood that he will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
“That is correct,” he said.
Family members of the victims sat directly behind Brittain, separated by a clear Plexiglas barrier. They sobbed as details of the crimes were read aloud to the courtroom, outlining how Brittain ended four lives in less than 45 minutes.
Brittain was charged with murder after the shootings on April 15, 2019. Rudi Winter, Darlene Knippelberg and Barry and Susan Wonch, all in their 60s or 70s, were killed in what became the deadliest shooting in Penticton’s history.
The neighbours were all shot at their homes on the same quiet residential block in the southern end of town.
An agreed statement of facts read to the court said that Brittain shot Winter first, just after 10:30 a.m. local time. Winter lived next to Brittain’s rental home.
Brittain then walked across the street to the Wonches’ house. He shot the couple in their garage before turning to Knippelberg’s home immediately next door.
He knocked on the front door and shot Knippelberg when she answered.
Court was told that each of the victims had been shot up to five times.
Brittain, facing forward and flipping through a stack of papers in front of him in court, showed no reaction as the families cried.
Motivation for the crimes
After shooting Knippleberg, Brittain drove himself to the Penticton RCMP detachment a short distance away and, at 11:15 a.m., told the front desk he wanted to turn himself in to police. Asked why, he responded that he had just killed four people and explained where he had left their bodies.
Brittain and his estranged wife were not living together at the time of the shootings, but Brittain told officers he committed the murders to settle a dispute between the victims and his wife.
In the agreed statement of facts, he said he’d never seen any mistreatment of his wife firsthand but had been around “long enough” to know “what was going on.” He also said the murders were his decision alone.
Court is expected to hear five victim impact statements before Brittain is sentenced.
A quadruple-murder trial for Brittain was set to begin in Kelowna on Oct. 5, but, unexpectedly, his lawyer said Brittain had decided to plead guilty and forgo a trial.
Brittain worked for the city’s engineering department for several years until his retirement “due to an illness” in 2016.