Sentencing adjourned for Abbotsford man convicted of manslaughter

Robert McMath was found guilty in December of the shooting death of his estranged wife.

An Abbotsford man who was due to be sentenced today (Friday) on a manslaughter conviction had his hearing adjourned until June 26 after Crown lawyers said they had been caught by surprise by points the defence intended to argue.

Lawyer Rob Mcgowan told Justice Carol Ross in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver that the Crown planned to recommend that Robert McMath, 69, receive the mandatory minimum sentence of four years for manslaughter “where a firearm is used in the commission of the offence.”

Conviction for such an offence can range from four years to life in prison.

Mcgowan said defence lawyers indicated only on Wednesday that they would be seeking a sentence of less than four years, and they would cite 15 prior court cases to support their argument that the mandatory minimum was not applicable in McMath’s situation.

The index of those cases was not presented to Crown until yesterday, Mcgowan said, leaving prosecutors no time to prepare counter arguments.

Ross agreed with the Crown’s request to adjourn the sentencing hearing, although she said she was reluctant to do so, especially when about a dozen of McMath’s family members were in the courtroom supporting him and awaiting a decision.

She said defence would be seeking a sentence of “substantially less” than the mandatory minimum, and it was important that both sides be given an equal opportunity to argue all the points.

McMath was initially charged with second-degree murder in connection to the shooting death of his estranged wife, Janice, 64, but was found guilty in December of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

At that time, Ross ruled that McMath accidentally shot Janice twice in the chest, resulting in her death in hospital nine days later on June 7, 2008.

McMath had testified at his trial that he and Janice were talking in a barn on the family property on McMath Street and he was holding a .32 Remington rifle that he had put outside because of coyotes that had been attacking and killing his chickens.

He said the gun accidentally discharged when his arthritic knee gave out and he stumbled, and it went off a second time when he fell.

The Crown had argued that McMath intentionally shot Janice to prevent her from going after certain assets – including the farm property, which had been in his family for generations – in their divorce.

Ross ruled that McMath was negligent in the way he stored the gun, and found him guilty of manslaughter. If he had been convicted of second-degree murder, he would have received an automatic life sentence.