HAMILTON — Either one of two shotgun blasts that hit an Indigenous man from close range would have killed him, a second-degree murder trial heard on Monday.
However, an experienced forensic pathologist testified, it was not possible to say which of the two shots the homeowner charged in the case fired first.
What was clear, Dr. Allison Edgecombe testified, is that Peter Khill, 28, fired both shots downwards at Jon Styres.
“There was certainly a lot of discussion which wound came first, which I was not able to determine,” Edgecombe told prosecutor Steve O’Brien. “(But) the person with the weapon had to be higher than the person who was shot.”
Court has heard how Khill’s girlfriend alerted him to a possible intruder at about 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2016. Khill, who lived in a rural area outside Hamilton, grabbed his Remington 12-gauge shotgun, loaded two shells and went out into the darkness to confront Styres, 29, who was apparently trying to steal Khill’s 15-year-old pickup truck.
“He approached Jonathan, raised his gun, took aim, and at close range pulled the trigger,” prosecutor James Nidal told the court in his opening address. “He racked the pump-action shotgun, chambering another round, and pulled the trigger again.”
Khill, who has pleaded not guilty, told responding officers he fired because he thought Styres had a gun and had raised his arms as if to shoot.
The dynamics of the case have prompted comparisons to the highly charged killing of an Indigenous youth in Saskatchewan. In that case, an all-white jury acquitted white farmer Gerald Stanley of murdering Coulten Boushie in August 2016.
Jurors in that case heard that Boushie and friends were on Stanley’s property to ask for help for a flat tire. Stanley testified he thought his ATV was being stolen, fired warning shots, and then accidentally shot the victim in the head.
The Boushie case led to protests against a justice system Indigenous people argued was racist, and First Nations said they were watching the Khill case closely.
Speaking to autopsy photographs shown to jurors, Edgecombe described in detail the effects of the two blasts, one of which hit Styres squarely in the upper left chest. The other hit him on the outside of the upper right arm, exited through his armpit and re-entered his chest.
Taking various factors into account, Edgecombe said the shotgun — equipped with a “turkey choke” that focused the exiting pellets — was likely somewhere around two metres from Styres when Khill pulled the trigger.
Both blasts caused extensive damage to the bones, muscles, and vital organs, and either shot would have killed him, although the victim did not die instantly, the pathologist testified.
In cross-examination, defence lawyer Jeffrey Manishen demonstrated various positions that Styres might have been in when hit, leading Edgecombe to concede it was not possible to be definitive and that the victim might have moved after the first shot struck him.
The case before Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero continues, with a second forensic pathologist expected to testify later Monday as the prosecution’s final witness.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press