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‘When my son breathed his last breath on that day in Afghanistan, my life ended’

Janet Baker, the mother of Cpl. Josh Baker who was killed in a training accident in February 2010 in Afghanistan, leaves the sentencing hearing of Paul Ravensdale at CFB Shilo, Man, Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/CP

The mother of a soldier killed in a training accident in Afghanistan broke down Tuesday as she told a court martial her life is over.

"When my son breathed his last breath on that day in Afghanistan, my life ended," Janet Baker testified.

"There is no life any more ... just an existence, a shell walking around."

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Baker appeared gaunt and tired and frequently wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke at the sentencing hearing of retired warrant officer Paul Ravensdale. He was found guilty last month of four charges, including breach of duty causing death. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, but the prosecution has yet to say what sentence it will seek.

Ravensdale was leading a test of C-19 anti-personnel mines on a weapons range near Kandahar city in February 2010 when one mine misfired and sent hundreds of steel ball bearings in the wrong direction. Instead of fanning out forwards, the bearings shot backwards toward soldiers who were watching.

Some of the projectiles hit and killed Cpl. Josh Baker, who was 24. Four other soldiers were injured.

Baker's mother recalled the moment a military notification team told her that her son was dead.

"I just bent over and I screamed for Joshua ... 'Dear God, No!"'

Later, she said, she watched as her son's coffin was taken off a military plane and to a funeral home, where she held him one last time.

"I told him, 'I will miss you, son, until I see you in heaven."'

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Ravensdale was convicted of ignoring the operating manual for C-19 mines, as well as for neglecting Canadian Forces training safety rules, which require soldiers to be at least 100 metres behind the mines or shielded from them.

Video played at the court martial showed some soldiers standing much closer and unprotected.

Josh Baker's commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Michael Prendergast, said the death affected the entire unit.

"To us ... it was quite a senseless death. We all thought it could have been preventable."

Baker's stepsister also testified about the impact the death has had on her. Heather Middleton said one of her young sons has had to undergo counselling and is afraid every time she leaves their Edmonton home.

"He really struggles when I've had to go away. He doesn't want to go to bed at night," Middleton said.

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Ravensdale faced the most serious charges stemming from the accident because he gave the order to fire and was also the safety officer on the weapons range that day. Days after the accident, he told a military investigator he had no idea why the mine misfired. He said the blast was much louder than it should have been and "all hell broke loose."

His lawyer told the court martial last month that Ravensdale was following a training plan that had been approved by his superiors and could not have foreseen the accident.

Two of Ravensdale's superiors have already been convicted.

Maj. Darryl Watts was demoted two ranks to lieutenant and given a severe reprimand on charges of negligence and unlawfully causing bodily harm.

Maj. Christopher Lunney was demoted one rank to captain and given a severe reprimand after pleading guilty to negligent performance of duty.

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