County deputy indicted by special grand jury
A deputy with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department was indicted Friday by a special grand jury on a single charge of Class C felony assisting a suicide.
If convicted, John Britton, 30, who has been on unpaid administrative leave since October 2009, faces a $10,000 fine and two to eight years in prison.
The indictment stems from a March 2009 incident in which Britton and his late wife, former county jail commander Christine Britton, had an argument in the couple’s Ramsey home. According to a report filed by the Indiana State Police, during the argument, Christine Britton allegedly threatened to kill herself and had made multiple attempts to get a gun from both John Britton and a vault where the couple kept their weapons. The argument continued in their bedroom, where she again allegedly threatened to kill herself.
During an interview with ISP Sgt. Andy Squier, John Britton allegedly said he told his wife, ‘You want to kill yourself, fine,’ and laid a .40-caliber handgun on their bed and walked out of the room.
‘As he took a few steps, he realized he had made a mistake and turned, hearing a gunshot,’ Squier’s report reads. According to an ISP crime scene investigator’s report, blood evidence at the scene indicates that John Britton was not in the area of the fatal shot. The report says the jeans, sweater and boots he was wearing were void of high-velocity blood spatter.
Britton testified to the grand jury for three to four hours, Stan Faith, his attorney, said. The grand jury was originally convened by special prosecutor Nancy C. Jacobs in August and had to take multiple breaks due to scheduling conflicts with the jurors.
Britton turned himself in to Squier Friday at approximately 3 p.m., and an initial hearing was held in Harrison Superior Court with Judge Roger D. Davis presiding. Davis entered a not guilty plea on Britton’s behalf and noted that terms of the bond agreement included that Britton cannot have any contact with Christine Britton’s family, cannot exercise any law enforcement powers, cannot possess any firearms of any kind and cannot possess any county property of any kind.
Davis asked Britton if he owned any guns or county property. Britton said he had one pistol that belonged to the county and some various sheriff’s department clothing. Davis instructed Britton to make sure the property was turned over to the sheriff’s department no later than Monday.
A pre-trial conference was set for Nov. 19 at 11 a.m., with a final pre-trial scheduled for Feb. 14 at 9 a.m. and a jury trial slated the following day at 9 a.m.
Britton’s attorney said his client did not want his wife to commit suicide.
‘That’s what (the state) has got to prove,’ Faith said. ‘They are going to have a hell of a time proving it. There have not been many cases in Indiana where that charge has been used. The law was put into place because of Dr. (Jack) Kevorkian, and this has nothing to do with that.’
Indiana Code 35-42-1-2.5, pertaining to assisted suicide, says that a person who has knowledge that another person intends to commit or attempt to commit suicide and who intentionally provides the physical means by which the other person attempts or commits suicide; or participates in a physical act by which the other person attempts or commits suicide commits a Class C felony.
‘He certainly did not want his wife to commit suicide and that’s what they’ve got to prove. He was in love with his wife; still is,’ Faith said.
‘John Britton literally made a fatal mistake that night. He allowed a handgun, or allowed access to a handgun, that was later used in the taking of a human life,’ ISP spokesman Sgt. Jerry Goodin said. ‘There’s a valuable lesson in this that you should never underestimate someone in emotional distress.’
Britton was released after posting a $2,000 surety of a $20,000 bond.
Britton’s arrest comes six months after Harrison County Sheriff G. Michael Deatrick was himself arrested on multiple felony and misdemeanor charges and two months after three corrections officers at the Harrison County Jail ‘ Sheila K. Barber, Zachariah (Nathan) Adams and Ross Timberlake ‘ were arrested after an incident in which an inmate alleged he was stripped naked and tortured with pepper spray while he was incarcerated at the jail.
All of those cases are still pending in Harrison Superior Court.