Man who pleaded guilty to 4 murders in B.C. eligible for parole in 25 years

RCMP officers continue to work outside a crime scene at the corner of Cornwall Drive in Penticton, B.C., on Tuesday April 16, 2019. A sentencing hearing is scheduled to continue today for a man who pleaded guilty to four murders last year in Penticton, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett

Now that legal proceedings against John Brittain have concluded, his ex-wife has finally broken her silence to dispel “groundless rumours” that suggested she encouraged him to murder four neighbours with whom she’d been in disputes.

Katherine Brittain’s statement was issued through her lawyer, Michael Welsh, on Friday, a day after a B.C. Supreme Court judge handed down four concurrent life sentences against her ex-husband, who must serve 25 years before being eligible for parole at the age of 92.

“With the court proceedings now complete, it is an appropriate time for her to speak,” Welsh said in the statement, which he asked be published in its entirety so parts of it can’t be taken out of context.

The complete statement reads:

“Ms. Brittain remains shocked and saddened by the actions of John Brittain, whom she divorced in January 2014. Despite groundless rumours, she wishes the community to know that she never wished any harm to any of the deceased victims.

’She had no prior knowledge that Mr. Brittain intended to kill anyone, and never suggested that he do so. She was and remains devastated and appalled by these killings. The problems she had reported to the City of Penticton of two neighbours violating city bylaws were ones she was dealing with through proper channels with the city. She never wanted Mr. Brittain to be involved, and never imagined he could act as he did.

“Mr. Brittain’s actions destroyed the lives of the families of the victims, and Ms. Brittain’s own life. She cannot fathom how he could ever believe that, in taking these lives, he was somehow helping her. That he did so, thinking he was acting on her behalf, is a burden she will carry her whole life.

“The judge at his sentencing hearing this week stated she accepted as fact that no one, which includes Ms. Brittain, had any idea that Mr. Brittain would do what he did. As was acknowledged by Mr. Brittain in court, my client is also a victim of his actions. She has been terrorized, and her property has been significantly vandalized as a result of blame for his actions being baselessly attached to her.

“She only hopes that with Mr. Brittain taking proper responsibility for his actions, and the court sentencing him appropriately, the Penticton community can begin to heal and that people, particularly the families of the victims with whom she deeply sympathizes, will accept that she had no part in his horrific actions.”

At this week’s sentencing hearing, court heard Katherine’s disputes with neighbours were relatively minor in nature, such as tree-trimming and smoke from a chimney wafting into her yard, yet caused her great distress that she shared with John.

Katherine’s home was vandalized in June 2019 – two months after the murders – by Zachary Steele, son-in-law of Rudi Winter, the first of four people shot by John.

The judge at Steele’s sentencing hearing in 2019 was told Kathy called the RCMP on the night in question to report someone had tossed a 3.5-kilogram rock through her front window and a smaller rock through another window, plus damaged planters, lawn ornaments, a mailbox and some eavestrough.

She also told police Steele had also shovelled gravel onto her roof and yelled to her, “Kathy, you’re all alone. Where’s John to help you now?”

Steel pleaded guilty to one count of mischief and was sentenced to one year of probation, plus ordered to pay $500 restitution, representing the deductible on Katherine’s house insurance. The damage was estimated at approximately $10,000.

Katherine was also named alongside John as a co-defendant in a civil lawsuit launched by Sarah Young, whose parents, Barry and Susan Wonch, were the second and third people, respectively, killed by John.

The lawsuit alleged Katherine conspired with John to commit the murders, but never offered any evidence. It was settled out of court on Oct. 2 – just days before what was to have been the start of John’s trial – by a consent order that states Young’s claims were “dismissed as if on the merits,” which has the same effect as a judge ruling against them.

The fourth and final victim was Darlene Knippelberg, who was shot in her home.

Brittain, a retired engineer who turned himself in at the Penticton RCMP detachment immediately after the shootings, said during a statement in court Thursday that he was at a loss to explain his actions, but cited as factors depression, workplace burnout and a "final mental breakdown.”