Acquittal quashed: Homeowner who gunned down car thief to be tried anew

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TORONTO — A Hamilton-area homeowner who gunned down a would-be car thief seconds after a driveway confrontation will have to stand trial again on second-degree murder, Ontario’s top court ruled on Wednesday.

In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal found the trial judge was wrong in instructing the jury that acquitted Peter Khill in June 2018. Khill had argued he was acting in self-defence when he fatally shot John Styres in 2016.

“The trial judge failed to instruct the jury to consider Mr. Khill’s conduct during the incident leading up to the shooting of Mr. Styres when assessing the reasonableness of that shooting,” Justice David Doherty wrote for the court.

At trial, Khill argued his four years of training as an army reservist had kicked in when he instinctively grabbed a shotgun in his bedroom and went outside to confront Styres. Within seconds of spotting Styres leaning into his 15-year-old pickup truck and yelling “Hands up,” Khill opened fire twice from just a few metres away hitting him in the chest. Styres, 29, who had no gun, died almost immediately.

Only then did Khill’s girlfriend call 911.

Khill, who was 26 at the time of the shooting, maintained he had no choice but to open fire.

Under the laws of self-defence, a person can use reasonable force to alleviate a threat to themselves or others. But the prosecution argued that Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero failed to instruct the jury properly about the role Khill played in bringing about the confrontation, not just what he was thinking at the moment he opened fire.

“Mr. Khill’s role in the incident leading up to the shooting was potentially a significant factor in the assessment of the reasonableness of the shooting,” the Appeal Court said. “The failure to explain that relevance and to instruct the jury on the need to consider Mr. Khill’s conduct throughout the incident in assessing the reasonableness of the shooting left the jury unequipped to grapple with what may have been a crucial question in the evaluation of the reasonableness of Mr. Khill’s act.’

This error alone, the court said, warranted setting aside the acquittal.

The case initially took on racism overtones because Styres was Indigenous, although there was no evidence that Khill was aware of that when he opened fire.

Khill also faces an ongoing civil lawsuit in which Styres’ relatives are seeking more than $2 million in damages. Their lawyer, Rob Hooper, said on Wednesday that Khill has refused to be examined until the criminal case is resolved but this result is what they had hoped for.

“We will continue to fight this injustice and fight for fair trials for Indigenous people in Canada,” Hooper said.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press