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Elderly Okanagan man gets three years for shooting

A Lake Country man was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for shooting a former friend in their shared home.

Judge Anne Wallace sentenced Kenneth Ralston, 62, to two years in prison for aggravated assault and tacked on a mandatory third year for using a firearm.

Upon hearing the sentence, Ralston—a grandfather of two who was characterized by supporters in his pre-sentencing report as "kind hearted"—was taken into custody, but not before he offered his friends a simple wave. They, in turn, left the courtroom in tears.

The sentence marks the end of the court process that began March 3, 2011, when Ralston was arrested for shooting longtime friend Michael Anderson in his right leg—an act to which he pleaded guilty last October.

Anderson, who was 44 at the time of the shooting, was taken to hospital and underwent surgery to save his leg. According to Crown Counsel Deborah Pope, it was a life changing event that left him bitter, unable to support himself, and in poor physical health.

By Crown's estimate, it was a significant outcome for a mere $800.

Pope explained the 2011 altercation boiled down to an outstanding debt.

"February went by, and (Anderson) couldn't pay rent… then in March he failed to pay rent and that caused hard feelings between Mr. Ralston and Mr. Anderson," said Pope, explaining that Anderson was supposed to pay Ralston $400 a month.

Anderson had been making a living by selling firewood, but a recent run-in with the Ministry of Forests left him barred from that avenue of work, so Anderson's rent debt started to stack up.

The situation came to a head March 3, 2011.

That morning, Ralston found Anderson started cutting up old furniture, and putting it into a fire pit.

Anderson claimed he was clearing up. Ralston said that Anderson was burning up his patio furniture.

Regardless, the two got into a brief argument about the matter, although they went their separate ways shortly thereafter.

Later, however, things went more seriously awry.

Anderson's statement indicated that Ralston busted into the shared home through the sliding glass doors, holding a rifle.

"'You better pay rent or get out, or I'll shoot you,'" said Ralston, according to Anderson's statement.

Anderson tried to explain he would soon pay his debt, and he'd secured work up North.  But, within "two minutes" he found himself on the ground, in shock from a gunshot wound to the leg.

Statements from all sides indicate that Ralston was instantly remorseful, calling 911 and crying into Anderson's lap.  He was co-operative with police, who indicated that alcohol was involved.

The Winchester rifle had left significant damage, however, and photographic evidence indicated that Anderson bled heavily. Had the police not arrived when they did, Anderson would have died, said Crown counsel.

While the shooting and the events leading to it matched from either side, the question lingering was whether the gun had intentionally gone off.

According to defence lawyer, Gavin Jones, the gun went off by accident when Ralston was trying to assert himself against a threat in his own home. According to his character witnesses, Anderson was aggressive, younger, stronger and had previously shown violin tendencies.

Even Anderson's previous landlord had indicated that his refusal to pay rent combined with erratic behaviour had led her to consider leaving her own home, to escape the problem.

Judge Wallace, however, gave those factors lesser weight, noting that Ralston should have known better than to bring a loaded weapon to a disagreement.  And, in sentencing, she pointed out that booze was likely the most significant factor in the crime.

"This obviously boils down to the consumption of alcohol," she said.

Wallace pointed out that Ralston had four drinking and driving charges from the '70s, and he continued to exhibit behaviour that indicated he struggled with alcohol.

In prison, she said, Ralston would be well served by accessing programming to deal with his issues.

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