Man accused of Penticton shootings plans to plead guilty to all 4 murder charges

A retired city engineer charged with four counts of murder after a shooting rampage in Penticton, B.C., plans to plead guilty on all counts, court heard Monday.

Crown and defence lawyers said John Brittain intends to plead guilty to three charges of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in connection with the killings. The announcement brought an abrupt end to a B.C. Supreme Court trial that had been expected to last four weeks.

Brittain, 69, did not appear in court on Monday. Several family members of the victims quickly left the gallery after the 10-minute hearing concluded.

Brittain was charged with four counts of murder after turning himself in to the local police detachment the day of the shootings on April 15, 2019. Four people, including a couple, had been left dead in two different areas of the Okanagan city. 

All of the victims lived on the same block.

Three of the victims lived in the neighbourhood and the fourth was shot at a second location about 10 minutes away, near Lakeview Street and Heales Avenue. Brittain had been renting a suite across the street from the second location. 

Police forensic officers investigate after the body of a man who was shot was found outside a home near Lakeview Street and Heales Avenue in Penticton, B.C., on April 15, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The victims — Barry and Sue Wonch, Darlene Knippelberg and Rudi Winter — were all seniors living in the Okanagan city. RCMP have not indicated a motive in the shooting deaths, but have said that Brittain knew all of his alleged victims.

Friends remembered the victims as “the best neighbours we’ve ever had.”

Brittain worked for the city’s engineering department for several years until his retirement “due to an illness” in 2016.

He is expected back in court in Kelowna, B.C., on Oct. 14 to enter his pleas before a sentencing hearing. His defence lawyer, who dialed into the hearing by phone, asked for the adjournment because he was waiting on the completion of a report that was not ready in time for Monday’s hearing. 

Madame Justice Alison Beames said Monday that Brittain will need to attend the hearing next week in person.

All of the victims lived on the same block, as did John Brittain’s estranged wife, Katherine Brittain, who was not one of the victims. (CBC News)

Sarah Young, the daughter of Susan and Barry Wonch, sued the accused killer and his estranged wife over her parents’ deaths in September 2019. The lawsuit was dismissed by consent on Friday.