Peter Khill has been found not guilty of killing Jon Styres, an First Nations man from Oshweken, Ont., he believed was trying to steal his truck.
A 12-person jury reached their verdict Wednesday morning after deliberations started Tuesday afternoon.
The 28-year-old man previously admitted he fired the two, close-range shotgun blasts that killed 29-year-old Styres in Khill’s suburban Hamilton driveway on the night of Feb. 4, 2016.
Khill pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder, based on self-defence, with his lawyer arguing the shooting was “justified” because he believed Styres had a gun and he feared for his life.
Court heard Styres did not have a gun that night.
The case was being watched by Indigenous community leaders, because it raises similar legal issues to the controversial case in Saskatchewan involving the death of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous man.
In that case, an apparently all-white jury acquitted Gerald Stanley of second-degree murder in Boushie’s death.
Saw only threat
For this trial, prospective jurors were screened for possible racial bias and the jury included at least one non-white person.
Race was never raised in evidence during the trial. In his closing arguments, defence lawyer Jeffrey Manishen did touch on the race of the two men. In the pre-dawn pitch-dark there was no way Khill could have known Styres was First Nations, said the lawyer — Khill didn’t see skin colour, he only saw a threat.
“Race cannot, it does not, play a role in the case,” said Manishen.
The verdict was met with sighs of relief and hugs among Khill’s supporters in court. Styres has also had supporters in court for the trial, and one woman began sobbing when the verdict was read.
The former reservist testified that he and his girlfriend were woken up by two loud, banging noises and when they looked outside, realized the lights were on in his 15-year-old GMC pickup truck.
Prosecutors did not deny that Styres was trying to steal Khill’s truck on the night of the shooting.
Training kicked in
Khill told court that at the sight of those lights his military background kicked in and he grabbed a 12 gauge shotgun from his bedroom closet, loaded it with two shells and headed outside to “confront and detain” whoever was out there.
He ran through a breezeway between his house and garage, opened the door and came up behind Styres, who he testified was leaning over the passenger-side seat.
“Hey, hands up!” he shouted at Styres. Khill told a 911 operator that night that Styres had turned toward him with his hands sweeping up to “gun-height.”
But experts during the two-week trial testified that the angle of the shots showed it was their opinion Styres was facing into the truck when he was hit in the chest and shoulder.
The Crown’s position was that Khill was not acting in self-defence and that instead of calling the police and staying safe in his home when he realized his truck was being broken into, he “took the law into his own hands.”
Assistant Crown attorney Steve O’Brien cited testimony from Khill’s superior officer with the reserves who said military training also includes gathering information and never “charging blindly” alone into danger.
“It is inexcusable that he did not call 911,” said the Crown, in is closing statement, suggesting also it was Khill’s shouted instructions that caused Styres to jump in surprise, which was enough motion for the man with the gun to feel frightened and open fire.