HAMILTON — The wife of a white homeowner on trial for killing an Indigenous man says she hoped it was her partner who pulled the trigger when she heard two gunshots outside their house on the night of Feb. 4, 2016.
Peter Khill, 30, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the shooting death of Jon Styres — who was allegedly trying to steal Khill’s truck — though he does not deny that he hit the 29-year-old from Six Nations Reserve with a pair of shotgun blasts.
Khill’s wife Melinda Benko, who is six months pregnant with the couple’s first child, testified Wednesday that she woke him up on the night of the shooting after she heard loud knocking or banging noises outside their isolated, rural home near Hamilton.
She heard Khill get his shotgun from the bedroom closet, load it and head out the back door while she looked out the window, she said.
Benko saw the silhouette of a person in the passenger seat of the truck, then a blinding light coming from the breezeway between the house and garage, followed by yelling and two loud, echoing blasts accompanied by flying sparks, she said, adding that she could not tell at first who had fired the shots.
“I was hoping Pete would shoot first if he had to,” Benko testified.
“I just freaked out and called 911.”
The Crown played the nearly 15-minute 911 call for the jury, in which Benko describes the series of events, adding that her then-boyfriend had shot a man who was trying to steal their truck.
Khill can later be heard on the 911 call telling the operator that he fired in self-defence.
“It looked like he was literally about to shoot me so I shot him,” Khill said over the phone. “I didn’t want to lose my life… Looking at him now it doesn’t look like (he has a gun).”
A police officer who was at the scene has previously testified that Khill recounted a similar version of events after being taken into custody.
“I’m a soldier. That’s how we were trained. I came out. He raised his hands to like a gun height. It was dark. I thought I was in trouble. Does self-defence mean anything in court?” Const. Matthew Robinson said Khill told him.
The jury heard on Monday that police did not find a gun on or near Styres, though they found a knife in his pocket.
Khill, a 26-year-old mechanical technician and licensed millwright at the time of the shooting, served as a reservist with a Brantford artillery regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces. He has been on bail since shortly after his arrest.
The case, which has some similarities to the racially fraught trial and acquittal earlier this year of a white Saskatchewan farmer accused of murdering Indigenous man Colten Boushie, is being closely watched by First Nations leaders.
Benko testified that she and Khill had been “on edge” in the days leading up to the shooting.
The couple moved into their house around Binbrook, Ont., about six months earlier and there had been “a lot of chatter in the community” about break and enters, car thefts and people being hurt by intruders, she said.
The week before the shooting, Benko was home alone while Khill was on a business trip and on two separate occasions she heard what she believed was someone trying to unlock the back door using the electronic keypad, Benko said.
Both times she opened the back door and found no one there, but the couple was concerned enough that Khill changed the back door’s key code once he got home.
Benko told the court she thought at first that the noise she heard on the night of Feb. 4, 2016 could have been someone in the covered breezeway between the house and the garage, kicking through one of the windows into the basement, trying to get into the home.
Peter Goffin, The Canadian Press