Former deputy gets 1-1/2 years in wife’s death
Former Harrison County Sheriff’s deputy John Britton will serve six months in Dubois County’s correctional facility and have one year probation stemming from his involvement in the March 2009 suicide of his wife, Christine Britton.
John Britton entered into a plea agreement and was charged with Class D felony criminal recklessness stemming from the death. Sentencing took place Friday morning in Dubois Circuit Court in Jasper, where Judge William Weikert sentenced Britton to 1-1/2 years in jail, with one year suspended and entered a no-contact order between John Britton and Christine Britton’s 15-year-old daughter. Weikert said that at the successful completion of probation, John Britton could petition the court to reduce the charge to a Class A misdemeanor.
The gun Christine Britton used ‘ a Springfield XD pistol that John Britton tossed onto the couple’s bed after she threatened to commit suicide during a heated argument ‘ was ordered to be destroyed. Britton was taken into custody immediately after the hearing.
Charlotte Hitner, Christine Britton’s mother, had difficulty talking after the hearing. As she wiped tears from her face, her husband and Christine’s stepfather, Alan Hitner, spoke.
‘We’re all satisfied with what the judge did and what he had to say. He did get a felony and we were looking for that,’ he said. ‘(Special prosecutor Nancy Jacobs) and her crew, I mean, they’ve been great with us.’
As she exited the Dubois County Courthouse, Jacobs only said that she was pleased with the sentence.
Several people took the stand in Jasper. Cathy Banet, Christine Britton’s sister, read a statement from the family, saying they’d had three years to think about what to say.
‘This is one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. Nothing can change that night,’ Banet said, adding that the family had to try to heal, grow stronger each day of their lives and ask that justice be upheld. ‘John failed as a law enforcement officer and as a responsible human being.’
Christine Britton’s daughter then took the stand and read from a laptop.
She said she was 12 years old when her mother, who she called her hero, died. The daughter said she’s dealing with a medical issue that was made 10 times more stressful to deal with, and that she should have had her mother there for her.
The daughter pointed out that Christine Britton had missed her first school dance and starting high school and would miss her graduation, wedding and the birth of a child. When questioned, the daughter said that she didn’t have a great relationship with John Britton, who was her stepfather.
John Britton, who now lives in Fisherville, Ky., with his mother and sister, testified for almost an hour.
John L. Smith, Britton’s co-counsel, questioned his client about his service in the Marines and how he eventually wound up with his late wife.
Britton said he graduated first in his class at Louisville Metro’s police academy and was a corrections officer for the city from April 2005 until July 2007. A prior marriage in which he fathered a son resulted in divorce, with his ex-wife moving home to Germany. He said he first met Christine Britton while she was commander of the Harrison County Jail and was looking to start training for a Special Operations Response Team. He said the relationship started professionally but love soon followed. They’d only dated a few months before they moved in together and were married a few months after that.
‘Anyone that knew her, they knew the kind of fire and fight that she had. I hadn’t seen that before. She could do anything. She could be so giving. She was beautiful, smart, funny,’ Britton said. ‘She understood me and got me.’
It was the ‘fire and fight’ that his late wife had that ‘ at least partially ‘ led to the fateful night of March 29, 2009.
Britton said he’d worked patrol that morning and that Christine had made dinner plans with neighbors. He got home at about 3:15 and later was in the process of getting ready for the outing when Christine started to clean a litter box.
‘I made a joke that she was genetically unable to make it anywhere on time and she got upset. I’d said that joke probably a thousand times,’ Britton said.
An argument ensued and Britton said he called one of the neighbors, Mike Andry, to let him know the get-together was called off. The Brittons continued to argue, with Christine saying she always had to do all the work in the house.
‘Christine had a temper. We were both alpha males, if you will. I’d match her step for step, but we’d step away for a few minutes and everything was fine. Kiss and make up was normal for us,’ Britton said. ‘She just kept getting madder and madder and madder ‘ she said, ‘You make me so mad. I hate you. I could kill myself.’
‘I never believed either one of those. That’s how she expressed herself.’
Britton said his wife went to the kitchen and another argument ensued in which she said she hated him and wanted to kill herself. At one point, she lunged for a pistol he was carrying on his hip.
‘I bear-hugged her and got her on the floor and told her not to touch my gun again,’ Britton said.
Christine allegedly told her husband she would get her own pistol. Britton said he stopped her several times and she kept repeating her threats before he’d finally reached his breaking point and told her, ‘If you want to kill yourself, fine,’ before throwing his gun on the couple’s bed and leaving the room.
Britton said he’d made it four of five steps out of the bedroom and realized he’d made a mistake, spun around on his heels and then heard the shot, then heard his wife fall to the floor.
‘No one would do that to their son or daughter and leave in that way,’ Britton said.
From there, Britton described his frantic 911 call, how he searched for an exit wound and initially found none, and how, as his wife was choking on her own blood, he felt as if he were losing control of the situation.
‘My best friend, and I’m doing my best to save her when I see a hole in the wall and knew that things are now infinitely worse,’ Britton said.
He said he felt an exit wound on the other side of Christine’s head.
Smith asked Britton if he thought he’d made a mistake.
‘Yes, sir. I realized it was a mistake. I spent a lot of time talking to Christine. I tried to apologize and tell her I’m sorry. I never thought for a second this was going to happen,’ Britton said.
He paused a moment and said he’d wished Christine had never met him.
‘I would trade this loss and go through what I deal with every day to bring her back,’ Britton said.
During cross-examination by Stan Levco, Britton said he never thought his wife would commit suicide.
‘I don’t believe she was suicidal … she wanted to make a point,’ Britton said.
‘You never thought she’d call your bluff?’ Levco asked.
‘Correct,’ Britton said.
Levco reminded Britton that, if he was a convicted felon, he could not possess a firearm and he could not be a police officer. Britton said he’d lost a lot of faith through the suicide of his wife and that he had no desire to be a police officer any longer.
After Britton’s testimony, Mike Andry, who is employed by the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department, took the stand. During his 13-minute testimony, he said he believed the gunshot was accidental, describing how the trigger pressure for a Springfield XD pistol differs from that of a Glock .22 caliber pistol, which Christine Britton was more familiar with and carried.
‘I don’t think (John Britton) is responsible. She’s an adult, carrying a firearm on a regular basis and I know she was confident with the Glock because I’ve seen her use it,’ Andry said, adding that there were numerous firearms in the Britton house. ‘She could have done it with any of the firearms in that house.’
In closing arguments, Stan Faith argued that he didn’t believe Christine Britton intended to commit suicide.
‘It was the damn pistol that took her life,’ Faith said, adding that he thought it would be vindictive of the court to sentence Britton to a life of purgatory if he was sentenced to a Class D felony. Faith asked that the judge sentence Britton to a Class A misdemeanor so Britton could ‘go on with his life in any way he can.’
Levco countered by saying that Britton was at least partially responsible for his wife’s death.
‘There’s a reasonable chance that had Mr. Britton not put the gun on the bed, she’d still be alive,’ Levco said.
After a 15-minute recess, the judge gave his ruling, noting, that because Britton committed a reckless act that resulted in death, the consequence should be more than a reckless act in which there was no death, such as driving recklessly through a parking lot.
‘How the death occurred is what is important to me,’ Weikert said, ‘and is more important and outweighs the mitigating factors.’