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Manslaughter trial hears counsels' closing arguments

A jury was asked to decide whether the shooting death of a Vanderhoof woman was accidental or due to carelessness during closing arguments Friday from Crown and defence counsels.
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A jury was asked to decide whether the shooting death of a Vanderhoof woman was accidental or due to carelessness during closing arguments Friday from Crown and defence counsels.

Kayne Sabbe Penner, 29, faces one count each of manslaughter with a firearm and careless use of a firearm in the death of April Rose Johnson, 18, from a single bullet wound from a .22-calibre semi-automatic rifle suffered Dec. 20, 2012.

Johnson and Penner were visiting his cousin, Richard Gunnar Borne, when the incident happened. Borne and his girlfriend were living in a single-wide mobile home located in the Vanderhoof area.

Penner's lawyer, Dave Jenkins Sr., maintained it was not a case where his client was "waving the gun around wildly" with no regard for anyone else who may have been in the home. Rather, Jenkins said Penner accidentally dropped the gun and it went off.

"We've all dropped things in our life and some of us very, very dangerous things with disastrous consequences," Jenkins said. But he also referred to instances where fatal accidents did not lead to criminal convictions.

However, Crown counsel Denise Ryan argued Penner violated the basic rules of handling a gun when he picked it up and pulled back the bolt on top of the weapon to see if the clip feeding bullets into the firing chamber was sticking.

Specifically, she said Penner failed to make sure the safety was on and the muzzle was pointed in a safe direction. Penner was checking the weapon while in close proximity to others and the actions were "careless and dangerous," the court was told.

Evidence presented during the trial showed Penner began a course on safely handling firearms but never completed it. But Ryan maintained a reasonable person would still have taken those steps.

Exactly why the gun went off is unknown, but Ryan invited the jury to conclude Penner's finger inadvertently touched the trigger at some point and took steps to dismiss a contention it went off when the butt hit the floor.

Earlier in the day, a ballistics expert testified the gun did not fire when it went through a series of tests to see if it was prone to "shock discharge" or going off when bumped or dropped, Ryan recalled.

Noting an array of items sitting on the kitchen counter next to where Penner was checking the gun, Jenkins suggested it could have fired if the gun had mistakenly touched one of them, notably a cast iron sculpture of an eagle with its claws in the air.

But Ryan argued the slightly downward direction of the bullet, combined with the height at which it struck Johnson, conflicts with that contention. Conversely, Jenkins noted the gun was never dusted for fingerprints, nor did police ask Penner which way he was facing when the gun went off.

During testimony, Borne outlined a series of problems he had with the gun including trouble with the clip properly feeding bullets into the weapon. He said he took it outside to fire a test shot before going back inside and leaning it against the kitchen counter.

Borne also testified he had consumed several beers and doubles. Penner may have had one drink and was not impaired, he said.

In part, Penner and Johnson had gone over to Borne's home to celebrate their recent engagement. Borne said he had retrieved the gun from his bedroom after Johnson suggested they go target shooting.

Johnson was two to six feet away from the gun when it went off, the court heard.

The jury will begin deliberations on Monday after they've heard instructions from B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Pearlman regarding the elements the Crown must prove to find Penner guilty of either offence.