Crown appeals for new trial for man acquitted in shooting death of Indigenous man

Peter Khill was found not guilty following a 12-day trial in Hamilton Superior Court last year, but the Crown has asked for the acquittal to be set aside and for a new trial to be held.

Peter Khill was found not guilty of second-degree murder of Jon Styres

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

The prosecution appeal of the not guilty verdict in the case of a Hamilton-area homeowner who shot and killed an Indigenous man begins Monday in Toronto.

Prosecutors are asking Ontario's Court of Appeal to set aside the controversial not guilty verdict and order a new trial for Peter Khill. 

Khill admitted he fired the two, close-range shotgun blasts that killed Jon Styres from Six Nations. But he pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, saying he was following his training as a former military reservist and that he fired in self-defence when he shot the man who appeared to be stealing his truck on the night of February 4, 2016.

Khill was found not guilty following a 12-day trial in Hamilton Superior Court last year. The verdict was met with outrage from Styres's family, members of the Six Nations of the Grand River and Indigenous leaders across the province.

Following the outcry, the Crown announced the appeal, saying the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury about self-defence and let an unqualified witness give opinion evidence on military training.

Now lawyers for both sides of the case are set to argue before the three appeal court justices starting at 10 a.m.

Hamilton criminal lawyer Jeff Manishen defended Khill during the trial and previously told CBC his client was "disappointed" he would have to retain a lawyer and respond to the Crown's appeal.

"He believes that the trial was conducted with fairness for all concerned and without error on the part of the trial judge or the jury," said Manishen at the time.

The trial was closely watched and drew comparisons to the not guilty verdict that was reached in the death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley, a white farmer.

In that case the verdict was reached by a jury without any visibly Indigenous jurors, a decision that led to protest across the country and a pledge from federal ministers and the prime minister to change "systemic issues" in the justice system.

Unlike the Stanley verdict, the 12 people who decided Khill should be acquitted were screened for racial bias and asked whether the fact the accused was white and the victim Indigenous would affect how they viewed evidence.

The trial also heard race didn't play a role in the shooting itself.

Court documents lay out four grounds for the Khill case appeal:

  • That Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero erred in his instruction of self-defence by failing to instruct the jury that they must consider Khill's role in the incident.
  • That Glithero erred in his instruction on self-defence by failing to instruct the jury that they have to consider whether anyone involved in the incident used or threatened to use a weapon and by only directing the jury to consider whether the victim used a weapon.
  • That Glithero erred in his instruction on self-defence by directing the jury to consider Khill's military training as one of the factors relevant to their assessment of the reasonableness of his actions.
  • That Glithero erred by allowing psychologist Dr. Laurence Miller to testify that the effect of Khill's military training could continue be operative in his actions on the night of the shooting, even though it was a non-military situation, because Miller was not qualified to give that opinion.

Rhonda Johns, Styres's aunt, previously told CBC that following the verdict the family was "quite hurt and we felt that there was no justice done ... we just felt lost, lost for words because of the shock."

But the appeal gave them something to feel positive about.

"The whole family is quite excited about the news," she explained. "We were just crossing our fingers and hoping the appeal would go through and we got our answer from the Creator."