10/07/2015 03:00 EDT | Updated 10/07/2016 01:12 EDT

Parole at least 22 years away for B.C. man convicted of murdering couple

PENTICTON, B.C. — A 51-year-old man convicted of two execution-style killings has been sentenced by a B.C. Supreme Court judge to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for at least 22 years.

John Koopmans, who was convicted by a jury in April of two counts of second-degree murder and a single count of attempted murder, was sentenced Tuesday in Penticton, B.C.

Cheri Franklin, whose 43-year-old brother, Robert Wharton was gunned down in his home near Princeton, B.C., in March 2013, said Koopmans got what he deserved and her family can move on.

"He's a ruthless killer. What can he say with no emotions?" said Franklin

Wharton's girlfriend, Rosemary Fox, 32, was also killed. A third person, Bradley Martin, 50, was shot in his chest but survived and was the trial's star witness.

The victims left behind six children, some of whom attended the sentencing but declined comment, except through Franklin. Koopmans appeared to have in the public gallery just one supporter, a friend who testified on his behalf at trial. 

Martin, who lived with Wharton, testified that on the night of the shootings, Koopmans arrived at the home and went to Wharton's bedroom to talk to the two murder victims.

Martin said he heard arguing, tried to intervene, was shot but escaped and got help.

Wharton's mother, Carol, lived in a trailer on the property and heard the gunshots. She discovered the bodies of Wharton and Fox on her son's bed with multiple bullet wounds to their heads.

Koopmans, who has maintained his innocence, was found a day later in a camper on the property.

A gun that fired the same type of bullets found in all three victims was recovered in the Similkameen River nearby, and a holster and ammunition for the same type of gun were found in a chair at the house of Koopmans's girlfriend.

The Crown argued Koopmans believed Wharton had a hand in a break-in at his home and wanted revenge, while the defence maintained the victims were shot by someone from the drug world in which they were involved.

"These murders were committed in a senseless and brutal fashion with both victims killed by a method akin to execution," said Justice Miriam Maisonville in her reasons for sentence.

A majority of the 12 jurors who convicted Koopmans recommended he serve consecutive life sentences with no parole for at least 30 years, but Maisonville rejected that as "inappropriate given the circumstances of the case before the court."

Crown counsel Frank Dubenski asked the judge to follow the jury's recommendation, but was satisfied with the outcome, after which he was applauded and hugged by the victims' families.

"I think it's within the appropriate range of sentences," he said, noting others convicted of double murders in B.C. have received 20-year terms of parole ineligibility.

"It's still a significant sentence."

Defence counsel Don Skogstad argued against consecutive sentences and instead suggested a 17.5-year term of parole ineligibility minus time served.

(Penticton Herald)

Joe Fries, Penticton Herald, The Canadian Press