An Abbotsford man accused of fatally shooting his estranged wife in 2013 says the killing was accidental and the result of a suicide attempt gone wrong.
Jeffrey Friesen, 44, testified Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster that he was in the garage of the couple’s Cassiar Court home, kneeling with a gun between his legs – the barrel positioned at his chin – when Leanne Friesen struck him on the back of the head with a hard object.
Friesen said the blow knocked him out and when he regained consciousness, he found Leanne lying on the floor of the garage with the gun by her right side.
He said he could not find a pulse on Leanne, and when he poked at her, she didn’t move.
“I remember looking towards the door and seeing blood on the wall … and then I realized I had shot her,” he said.
Friesen has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder of Leanne, 40. His jury trial began in mid-November and evidence is expected to conclude this week.
In opening statements at the beginning of the trial, the Crown asserted that Friesen killed Leanne because he was unwilling to accept her intention to end their marriage.
Friesen, who was born and raised in Abbotsford, testified that he met Leanne in 1999, when she lived next door to him in Kelowna, where he was residing while working in construction.
She became pregnant with their first child – a girl – a month after they met, and they married that summer. Their son was born 18 months later, and the family settled in Abbotsford in 2005.
Friesen said troubles in the marriage first began in 2006, when an error he made in filing their taxes resulted in a $20,000 bill.
He said Leanne’s anger with him and demands that he find a way to come up with the cash led to them becoming “disconnected” and caused him to feel inadequate, ashamed and worthless.
He said when Leanne took their kids with her to Kelowna one weekend, he thought they might never come back, and he decided to kill himself.
Friesen said he stole a rifle from his dad’s property, brought it back home and inserted a bullet. He kneeled on the floor, placed the gun beneath his chin, and pulled the trigger, but it didn’t fire.
He said he was so horrified that he threw the gun on the couch. His mom and brother came over, and they encouraged him to go into counselling, but he did not seek medical help.
Leanne was informed about the incident when she and the kids returned home, but the couple moved on, buying their home on Cassiar Court in 2007.
The couple hit another rough patch in 2009, when the poor economy impacted the work that Friesen was able to get through the construction company he had started, and again in mid-2012.
Friesen said continued pressure from Leanne, who did housecleaning jobs, for him to resolve their financial issues spiked his depression.
He had previously taken some out-of-town jobs, and Leanne urged him to go out on the road again, but he said the stress and anxiety left him unable to work.
Instead, he lied to Leanne that he was working. On one occasion, he had her drive him to the Abbotsford Airport for an alleged job in Calgary.
Friesen testified that instead of getting on a plane, he spent the day at the airport, took a taxi to his neighbourhood that night and slept in a bush.
The following morning, he let himself into the empty house and hid in a closet beneath the stairs. He remained there for three days, texting Leanne as if he were in Calgary, even sending her pictures from the supposed job site.
Friesen said he would only emerge from the closet for brief periods when nobody was home.
“I feared Leanne blowing up and having a big argument,” he said of why he remained in the space.
Leanne discovered him when she heard a sound in the closet, and Friesen said she screamed at him and hit him in the chest several times.
The couple separated soon afterwards – in the fall of 2012 – and Friesen moved in with his mom and stepdad, but remained friendly with Leanne. He said he often stayed overnight at the Cassiar Court home to spend time with the kids.
Their home went into foreclosure, and the couple began making plans for the sale of the house, including getting rid of their hot tub. Friesen testified that he had a potential buyer but when he indicated to Leanne in the early morning of Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 that the purchaser was offering $1,000 less than the agreed-upon price, she became upset and accused him of lying.
Friesen said Leanne became increasingly angry, hit him in the chest, and yelled at him to leave the home and never come back.
Friesen, who said he did not yell at Leanne or physically fight back, eventually proceeded into the garage, but Leanne followed him and continued to curse and yell for several more minutes, including threatening that she would take the kids away from him.
Friesen said that when Leanne went back into the house, he felt worthless, helpless and “in a daze.” He pulled out a gun that he had hidden under his work bench, picked up two rounds from a shelf and loaded the weapon. He said he used two shells because, in his failed suicide attempt in 2006, he had loaded only one round.
“I wanted to make sure it would work this time,” he said.
Friesen said he got into position, but was having difficult finding the trigger, when Leanne burst back into the garage and yelled, “What the hell are you doing?!” before striking him on the head.
Friesen said that after the shooting, he walked into the house and was confronted by his son, who wondered whether the loud bang was some shelving that had fallen in the garage. Friesen told him he was correct, and said Leanne had left the house because she was upset.
Leanne’s body was discovered by police on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 6 after her brother reported that they hadn’t heard from her for a couple of days.
In Crown’s opening statement, it was indicated that police found a shell casing in a closet in the home, and a gun inside Friesen’s truck. The casing and gun matched, Crown asserted.
Friesen testified that he hadn’t reported the incident himself because he wanted more time to spend with his kids before taking them to his parents and then either killing himself or turning himself in.
He claimed his intention in pulling out the gun was never to hurt Leanne.
“I thought she’d want me out of her life so I thought I’d kill myself,” he said.
Crown counsel began cross-examination of Friesen on Monday afternoon, focusing on his claims that he was not angered about their collapsing marriage.
The trial continues this week.