Gun owner blames himself for Vanderhoof woman's death, court hears

The owner of the gun at the centre of a manslaughter trial still blames himself for the death of his cousin's fiance, the court heard Wednesday.

Kayne Sabbe Penner, now 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.

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During testimony Wednesday, Richard Gunnar Borne confirmed the incident occurred in his Vanderhoof area home and that he owned the gun from which the bullet was discharged.

The court had heard the incident occurred about a half-hour after Penner and Johnson had shown up that afternoon at the home to celebrate their recent engagement, Borne's birthday and the holiday season.

They had paid an unannounced visit - "they always come over to see me, there doesn't have to be a reason," Borne said - and by that time Borne said he had consumed seven or eight beers and three to four doubles of mixed vodka drinks.

Borne said he wanted to go snowmobiling but his girlfriend, Patricia Heichert, and Johnson thought it was too cold out. When Johnson suggested they go target shooting at the Borne family farm a few kilometres away, Borne said he retrieved his rifle from his bedroom where he kept it and inserted a magazine into the Remington 597.

But Borne said he was reluctant to lend out the semiautomatic, which automatically loads the next bullet although the trigger must be pulled each time to fire a round. He told the court, it had "stove piped" a few months before when a bullet failed to go all the way into the barrel and shattered the magazine when it was fired.

Borne subsequently cleaned the gun and still had a spare magazine that came with the rifle when he bought it about a year before for $200. However, he said there was a problem with the spring in that magazine and refrained from loading more than seven bullets into it. At one point, he also thought the firing pin was bent because sometimes it wouldn't fire, the court heard.

But on the day in question, Borne went outside and fired off a test round into a nearby tree from his porch. Satisfied it was in working order, Borne said he went back inside and leaned the gun against the kitchen counter.

He had turned around to mix drinks for himself and Penner when he heard what he thought was a balloon popping. As he turned around, he saw Penner rush towards Johnson who had said "oh, my god." Johnson had been standing at the door of the home - a single-wide mobile home in the 6200 block of McLeod Road in Vanderhoof - about two metres away from where the gun had been placed. Borne next noticed the gun lying on the floor but could not remember which direction the barrel was pointed.

Borne said the magazine was still in the gun and he had left the safety off when he leaned it against the counter but had thought he had emptied the next bullet from the chamber. He said Penner was behind him but was not sure where he was standing in relation to the rifle.

He recalled Penner being in a state of confusion but while he had one or two drinks, he was not impaired. Borne agreed with defence counsel Dave Jenkins Sr. that he remembered Penner saying, "I'm not sure what happened, I don't know what happened, I don't know how this could've happened."

"That's why I blame myself," Borne added.

Both Penner and Borne were arrested 2 1/2 years after the incident. While Penner opted for a jury trial in B.C. Supreme Court, Borne is schedule to go to trial in May before a provincial court judge in Vanderhoof on counts of careless use of a firearm, improper storage and unauthorized possession of a firearm.

The statements Borne made Wednesday cannot be used as evidence at his trial, the court was told.

In other testimony Wednesday, Cory Gull told the court that the gun was in working order when he sold it to Borne. He said the gun was about eight years old but posed no problems on the four or five occasions he used it. Gull said he sold it because he needed the money and for safety reasons as there were young children in his household.

Dr. James Stephen, a forensic pathologist who conducted an autopsy on Johnson, said the bullet entered her upper left abdomen and continued in a slightly downward direction before lodging in her spine. Stephen said he would not be able to determine her body position at the time she was struck.

The trial continues Thursday at the Prince George courthouse.

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