Dead soldier's mother says she died with her son

Emotions ran high at the sentencing hearing Monday afternoon for a Calgary reservist killed in Afghanistan nearly three years ago.

Janet Baker among 6 witnesses being called at major's sentencing

Emotions ran high at the sentencing arguments for a Calgary reservist killed in Afghanistan. 2:00

Emotions ran high at the sentencing hearing Monday afternoon for a former soldier who was found guilty in connection to the death of a Calgary reservist in Afghanistan nearly three years ago.

Janet Baker was one of six witnesses called by the prosecution to talk about the impact of the death of her son, Cpl. Josh Baker, and injuries to four others during a training accident.

The process is designed to help the judge — a senior ranking military officer — decide the fate of Maj. Darryl Watts, who was found guilty at a Calgary court martial last month of negligent performance of military duty and unlawfully causing bodily harm.

Janet Baker, mother of Cpl. Josh Baker of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, grieves beside the hearse carrying her son's remains during a repatriation ceremony at CFB Trenton, Ont., on Feb. 15, 2010. (Peter Redman/Canadian Press)

On Monday, Baker sobbed as she described the day she learned of her son's death as well as what it was like attending his ramp ceremony and funeral. She also talked about what life has been like for her since her son died.

"I don't really have a life anymore, it's just an existence," Baker said. "Two people died on the field that day — Joshua and myself."

Earlier Monday, Baker's stepsister Heather Middleton testified.

"I just miss him," an emotional Middleton, told the Calgary hearing.

She said attending the ramp ceremony at CFB Trenton was devastating to the family.

"We saw the casket come off the plane. I had trouble standing and my daughter beside me was just so heartbroken," she said.

"It was just the worst thing. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was just unbearable and so unbelievable."

Defence lawyer Balfour Der called several witnesses who spoke to Watts' character and work ethic.

Calgary Fire Department Chief Bruce Burrell was one of the witnesses called by the defence.

He spoke of Watts' exemplary record with the department and told the media after he hopes to see Watts back at work as soon as possible.

'A series of unfortunate events'

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.

Four other soldiers hit by the blast suffered serious wounds.

Master Bombardier Daniel Scott, one of the wounded, said he has a 25-centimetre scar on his chest to remind him of what happened.

"I was pretty lucky. It was unlucky to be hit but the best thing is to be able to carry on. It was a series of unfortunate events," Scott said. "I know the impact on [Baker's] family. It wasn't a combat death and I guess it was just a sad thing to happen."

But Scott said he harbours no ill will towards Watts.

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.

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  the ball bearings fired backward when the second firing occurred — 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.

Death hurt morale

Lt.-Col. Michael Prendergast was Baker's commanding officer in Edmonton at the Loyal Edmonton Regiment.

He said the death hurt morale among members of the platoon back in Edmonton.

Prendergast said it was wartime and although accidents do happen, this one shouldn't have.

"This one ... Cpl. Baker ... it just seemed quite frankly senseless and useless," he said. "Rules were either bent or broken and when I say rules, I mean safety rules."

The maximum sentence for unlawfully causing bodily harm is up to 10 years behind bars. Negligent performance of duty can bring dismissal with disgrace from the Canadian Forces. Watts could also face a reduction in rank and a severe reprimand.

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 Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale.

With files from CBC's Meghan Grant