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Four-year sentence sought for shooting death of Abbotsford woman

Robert McMath convicted of manslaughter in connection with death of estranged wife Janice McMath.

An Abbotsford man who shot and killed his estranged wife in 2008 should be sentenced to four years in prison, Crown counsel argued in B.C. Supreme Court Monday.

In December 2013, Robert McMath, 70, was found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Janice McMath, 64.

McMath had been charged with second-degree murder, but Justice Carol Ross had ruled that Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McMath intentionally shot Janice. Instead, McMath was convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

The couple had separated in 2003 after 22 years of marriage interrupted by a separation between 1995 and 1996.

Although Janice had begun divorce proceedings in 2005, McMath and some witnesses at trial testified that the couple remained friendly during their separation. Court heard at trial that Janice visited the McMath Street farm where Robert and two of their sons lived two or three times a week.

McMath testified that on May 28, 2008, he was concerned that coyotes had been attacking and killing chickens on his property. He loaded three cartridges into a .32 Remington rifle in his home and moved the gun outside near the chicken coop.

Janice had come over for a visit, and the two shared a bottle of wine.

McMath testified that he told Janice he had some work to do in the barn, and she accompanied him. As they returned to the house,  McMath testified that on their way, he picked up the nearby rifle with the intention of unloading it. He said his back was turned to Janice, but she walked in his path as he stumbled, due to his arthritic knee giving out, and the gun went off.

According to police testimony, McMath reported that the gun went off again when he fell, and Janice was shot a second time.

Janice died from her injuries nine days later.

Crown counsel had argued that McMath shot Janice to prevent a possible court ruling that could have forced the sale of his 24-acre farm. The farm was first purchased by Robert McMath's grandparents and he had lived on the property since 1969.

McMath wanted to pass the acreage, as well as four other parcels of land, to the couple's five sons, the court heard at trial.

The couple was unable to reach an agreement on the matter. A trial date was set for June 4, 2008, but on May 28 Janice was shot..

Justice Carol Ross, though, said reasonable doubt existed whether the shooting was intentional and thus found McMath guilty of manslaughter. Ross said McMath was negligent in the way he stored the gun and had failed to engage the gun's safety mechanism while there was a cartridge in the chamber.

" … the risk that the rifle might discharge and harm someone was foreseeable," she said.

A conviction of manslaughter involving a firearm carries with it a four-year mandatory minimum sentence, although McMath's lawyers are arguing that such a sentence should not apply in the case.

Lawyers for the two parties were back in court Tuesday. A decision isn't expected to be handed down until March.