Court of Appeal sets aside acquittal for Peter Khill, orders new trial

Ontario's Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial for Peter Khill, the man found not guilty of second degree murder for killing Jon Styres, a First Nations man from Ohsweken, Ont.

Khill's lawyers considering options, including appeal to Supreme Court of Canada

Peter Khill was found not guilty of second-degree murder for shooting and killing Jon Styres in Feb. 2016. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

Ontario's Court of Appeal has ruled Peter Khill, the man found not guilty after admitting he shot and killed Jon Styres, should again stand trial for second degree murder.

The court released its unanimous decision Wednesday, saying the trial judge failed to instruct the jury to consider Khill's conduct leading up to the moment the trigger was pulled and Styres, a First Nations man from Ohsweken, Ont., was killed.

The Hamilton-area homeowner was found not guilty following a 12-day trial in June 2018 where he argued he fired in self defence.

"I would allow the appeal, set aside the acquittal, and order a new trial on the charge of second degree murder," wrote Justice David Doherty in a  48-page decision that stated not instructing the jury to consider Khill's conduct in the lead up to the shooting left members unequipped to evaluate the "reasonableness" of his actions.

Lindsay Hill, Styres's partner and the the mother of his two children, said news of the decision left her feeling as though a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

"I now still have some hope that Jon can get the justice he deserves."

Michael Lacy, one of the lawyers who represented Khill at the Court of Appeal, said despite the "tragic situation" his client has maintained he is not guilty of any crime.

"From the outset Mr. Khill on his initial arrest and throughout the entirety of the proceeds, maintained he was acting in lawful self defence," Lacy explained, adding he's reviewing the court's decision and considering options, including an application for an appeal at the Supreme Court.

"If new trial goes forward he will continue to maintain his innocence and defend himself appropriately."

Khill, who spent several years as a part-time reservist, said he fired the two, close-range shotgun blasts that killed Styres from Six Nations of the Grand River, but pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

Family and friends of Jon Styres hug outside court after hearing Khill was found not guilty on June 27, 2018. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

He testified he was following his military training when he was woken up around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2016 and saw the lights on in his truck. Court heard he loaded a shotgun and stealthily approached the man who appeared to be stealing his truck.

Khill told the jury he fired in self defence when the other man turned. Styres was unarmed.

Calls for justice system to be overhauled

The trial was closely watched by Indigenous community leaders because it raised similar legal issues to the controversial case in Saskatchewan involving the death of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous man.

During a press conference on Six Nations Wednesday, Chief Mark Hill said Khill's not guilty verdict eroded Indigenous Canadians' faith in the justice system.

"Knowing that the justice system recognizes it did not achieve justice for Mr. Styres is an indicator that we are on the right path," he said. "There is still a long and difficult path ahead. We have seen time and time again the system fail our people."

Hill fought back tears during parts of the press conference and said it was a relief to get some good news.

Looking forward to a new trial, she said one area she hopes is handled differently is jury selection.

"I know jury selection is always an issue and I felt it was an issue at Jon's trial," she explained.

A tear rolls down the cheek of Lindsay Hill, Jon Styres's partner, as she talks about how her family has been coping since Peter Khill's trial. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Potential jurors in the case were asked whether the fact that the accused Peter Khill was white and the deceased victim Jon Styres was Indigenous would keep them from considering evidence without bias.

She added the appeal is only one step toward "getting the justice we all deserve."

"Although the order of a new trial is good news, it does not guarantee the accountability of Peter Khill's actions," said Hill. "We must still continue this important call for reform and overhaul of the justice system in Canada.

Jury 'unequipped to grapple' with possibly crucial question

In its appeal, the Crown argued trial judge Justice Stephen Glithero made four errors, three of which involved instructions around self defence, and the fourth which challenged the admissibility of evidence from an expert who was called by the defence.

Defence lawyers Lacy and Joseph Wilkinson responded for Khill, arguing nothing from the trial indicated the points raised by the Crown would have changed the verdict.

"The Crown here had the trial they wanted, they had the jury instructed in the manner … they wanted. And what the Crown is really complaining about is they did not get the result they wanted," said Lacy during the hearing.

On Wednesday he added the defence had argued the judge's charge to the jury included proper instruction and pointed out that there was no objection from the Crown at the time.

The appeal court did not agree with three of the Crown's submissions, but did find Khill's role in the lead up to Styres's death was "potentially a significant factor in the assessment of the reasonableness of the shooting."

The decision went on to say the "failure" to properly instruct the jury on the need to consider his conduct throughout the incident "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.

"On this basis, the acquittal must be set aside and a new trial ordered," it concluded.