"It happened so quickly"

Jury hears accused man's story in shooting death of fiance

A jury heard the story of a Vanderhoof man accused of manslaughter with a firearm in the death of his fiance when his statement to police just days after the incident was aired Thursday.

Speaking in a subdued voice and fighting back tears, Kayne Sabbe Penner, now 29, recounted the events on Dec. 20, 2012 leading up to the moment the rifle he was holding discharged the bullet that struck April Rose Johnson, 18, in the stomach. She would die from the wound at University Hospital of Northern British Columbia early the next morning.

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As the trial had heard earlier, he and Johnson had gone to visit his cousin, Richard Gunnar Borne, at his 6200-block McLeod Road mobile home.

Penner said he wasn't sure who came up with the idea, but the plan was to go target shooting and Borne retrieved the rifle, a .22-calibre Remington 597 semiautomatic, from his bedroom. After going outside to take a test shot, Borne came back inside and went into the kitchen. 

"We were just pouring our first drinks and Gunnar passed me his gun and then said it was unloaded," Penner told North District RCMP Cpl. Sasha Baldinger.

Showing Baldinger how he held the gun with one hand while moving the other back and forth, Penner said he checked the sliding bolt at the top because Borne said it was sticky and there had been trouble with the magazine holding the bullets.

"And I was over top of the counter and then I went to pull it back like that. The kind of just slipped and hit the counter and then it went off." Penner said he and Borne looked at each other and he didn't immediately realize Johnson had been hit. Johnson, who had been standing by the door a short distance away, "fell to her knees and her face went white."

With Borne's help, Penner took Johnson to his car and rushed her to St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof. From there, Johnson was taken the UHNBC by ambulance with Penner and Borne following behind, the court has heard.

On Wednesday, Borne said he was certain there were no bullets in the chamber when he brought the gun back in, but also admitted he had left the magazine inserted and the safety off. Penner said he did not remember if the magazine was still in the gun. He said he pulled the bolt handle twice.

"It just happened so quick," Penner said.

Semiautomatics automatically load the next round into the chamber although the trigger must still be pressed to fire it. For the Remington 597, the fire shot must be loaded using the bolt, before the rest load automatically, the court heard in earlier testimony.

Penner gave the statement voluntarily and without a lawyer at the Vanderhoof RCMP detachment the day after Johnson died.

In June 2015, 2 1/2 years after the incident, Penner and Borne were arrested and charged. Penner faces one count each of manslaughter with a firearm and careless use of a firearm. Borne faces counts of careless use of a firearm, improper storage and unauthorized possession of a firearm. His case is set to go to trial in May before a provincial court judge in Vanderhoof.

Penner told Baldinger he had been taking medication to calm his nerves and by the end of the 25-minute interview, Penner was crying and slumped in his chair.

In other testimony, retired-Conservation Officer Cam Hill verified a document showing Penner had shown up for the first day of a Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education (CORE) course he had delivered in February 2006 but said there was no evidence he had completed it.

Hill said a demonstration of basic firearm safety using a manual rifle is given during the first evening while semiautomatics are looked at on the fifth night of the six-session course.

He said basics include always assuming a firearm is loaded, making sure it's pointed in as safe a direction as possible and keeping the finger outside the trigger guard when checking a firearm. As for semiautomatics, Hill said the user must always ensure the magazine is out before conducting an inspection.

The trial continues Friday at the Prince George courthouse.

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