Soldier acquitted of manslaughter in accident

CALGARY — A Canadian reservist has been found not guilty of manslaughter in an Afghanistan training accident that killed one soldier and injured four others more than two years ago.

CALGARY — A Canadian reservist has been found not guilty of manslaughter in an Afghanistan training accident that killed one soldier and injured four others more than two years ago.

A military jury at a court martial in Calgary also acquitted Maj. Darryl Watts of breach of duty.

But the five jurors, all senior officers in the Canadian Forces, convicted him of unlawfully causing bodily harm and negligent performance of military duty.

Watts, who stood at attention while the verdict was being read, shared a long embrace with his wife once the court had adjourned. The courtroom at the Mewata Armoury where the trial was held, was jammed with military personnel.

The maximum sentence for unlawfully causing bodily harm is imprisonment of up to 10 years. Negligent performance of duty can bring dismissal with disgrace from the Canadian Forces.

Cpl. Josh Baker died when a Claymore anti-personnel mine loaded with 700 steel balls peppered the platoon on a practice range near Kandahar city in February 2010.

The prosecution had argued that Watts, who was the platoon commander, turned a blind eye to safety standards and abdicated his duty as a leader when he handed over responsibility to his second-in-command, Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale, who was an expert on the weapon.

“Every case sets a precedent to some extent and what this case does do … is say if you have your subordinates run a range, you remain accountable the way they run the range,” said military prosecutor Maj. Tony Tamburro.

“In my opinion, if commanders weren’t responsible for the way ranges were done, that would cause people not to join the Forces.”

Defence lawyer Balfour Der had argued that Watts had no training on the C19, so handed over responsibility for safety to Ravensdale.

The lawyer choked back tears as he spoke to reporters after the decision Tuesday.

“I’m disappointed but I’m just so glad the manslaughter charge and the other two explosive charges are gone,” he said.

Der said his client was relieved that the jury’s verdict was over.

“But he’s deeply disappointed in being convicted of anything. The whole thing’s really tough on him and his family. He feels very guilty about the loss of Cpl. Baker, one of his men, and Major Watts is such a good soldier.”

Asked why he was so emotional, Der said: “I feel very strongly in the man’s innocence, and I feel very badly for him and his family to be put in this position of being found guilty when he doesn’t think he did anything wrong.”

The day of the accident, the range was divided into four training sections. The first two tests of the anti-personnel mine went off without a hitch. But when the second firing occurred, the ball bearings fired backward, hitting Baker and four others.

Videos show several soldiers, including Watts, standing around watching the test. They were not inside armoured vehicles or standing behind them for cover, as set out in Canadian Forces safety guidelines.

Watts’s commanding officer, Maj. Christopher Lunney, pleaded guilty to negligent performance of duty in September and was demoted to captain and given a severe reprimand.

Another court martial is pending against Ravensdale sometime in the new year.

A sentencing hearing headed by Cmdr. Paul Lamont, who is the judge presiding over the court martial, is to begin Jan. 14.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rocky Mountain House RCMP are investigating a fatal collision involving a pedestrian on Feb. 27. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

Collision occured west of Rocky on Highway 11A

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

March will be dramatically warmer through the prairies

Bharat Masrani, CEO, TD Bank Group speaks at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Wednesday, November 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

Shares in metals and mining companies have rebounded sharply

A worker carrying a disinfectant sprayer walks past a WestJet Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft, after cleaning another plane at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
WestJet to lay off undisclosed number of pilots amid labour negotiations

Layoff notices to go out ahead of the expiration of a memorandum of agreement

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

Canada has ordered 24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Red Deer dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

A ” Justice for Jeff” T-shirt. (Photo submitted)
Rally to be held outside Red Deer courthouse for slain Ponoka man

Sentencing for accused charged with manslaughter with a firearm set for March 4

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson makes a shot against Team Alberta as second Shannon Birchard, right, and lead Briane Meilleur sweep in the semi-final at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Kerri Einarson wins second straight Canadian women’s curling championship

Einarson and her teammates celebrated Sunday in the silence in an empty arena

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted the Golden Globes on Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
With loved ones and pets, Globes winners embrace cozier show

Nicole Kidman and musician-husband Keith Urban got glammed up to sit on their couch

The cast of “Schitt’s Creek” pose for a photo after winning the Award for Best Comedy Series at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on March 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Schitt’s Creek nabs two Golden Globes for its final season

Catherine O’Hara named best television actress in a musical or comedy

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

Most Read