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Dead soldier's mother tells sentencing: 'Two people died on the field that day'

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CALGARY - Janet Baker says her life ended the day her son died in a training accident in Afghanistan nearly three years ago.

The mother of Cpl. Josh Baker was so emotionally fragile that she was already crying as she was assisted by a soldier on her way to speak at the sentencing of a Calgary reservist convicted in her son's death.

"I don't really have a life anymore. It's just an existence," said Baker through her tears.

"Two people died on the field that day in two different ways. Joshua and myself.

"There is no life. I'm just waiting for that time when my life is over and I can join my son," Baker said, her voice barely a whisper.

Baker said she saluted her boy when his flag-draped coffin arrived at CFB Trenton and told him how proud she was of him.

A few days later she was able to say a private goodbye at a funeral home.

"I said, 'I'm your mother and I brought you into this world. I was supposed to keep you safe but I couldn't save you this time.'"

Several people inside the military courtroom joined Baker in her tears during her testimony.

Baker was one of six witnesses called by the prosecution Monday to testify about what impact the accident had on them.

Last month, Maj. Darryl Watts was found guilty by a military jury of unlawfully causing bodily harm and negligent performance of military duty in the accident.

Josh Baker, 24, 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 were seriously injured.

Keven Ellis got to know the Baker family after the accident through an organization that provides support to military families.

He said he was worried about Janet Baker.

"I would say this woman has suffered the pain of five lifetimes," Ellis said.

"She would go to his grave every day for two or three hours. She has continued to do that to this day."

The morning session of the court martial continued into the afternoon Monday so that Baker's mother could finish testifying and return home to Ontario to visit her son again.

Baker's stepsister was also in tears.

"I just miss him," said Heather Middleton, who became Baker's stepsister when he was just 10.

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."

Master Bombardier Daniel Scott, who was one of the wounded in the accident, 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."

The prosecution had argued that Watts, who was the platoon commander, turned a blind eye to safety standards and abdicated his duty as 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 when the second firing occurred, the ball bearings fired backward, hitting Baker and the others.

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

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.

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