Peter Khill murder trial: What does the law say about self defence?

The question of whether or not Peter Khill acted in self-defence when he shot and killed Jon Styres will be at the centre of the jury's considerations as they begin deliberating in his second-degree murder trial.

Jury begins deliberating in a trial where defence maintains shooting was act of self-defence

The jury has begun deliberation in the second-degree murder trial of Peter Khill. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The question of whether or not Peter Khill acted in self-defence when he shot and killed Jon Styres will be at the centre of the jury's considerations as they begin deliberating in his second-degree murder trial.

The seven men and five women  who make up the jury were charged by Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero Tuesday and have retired until they reach their verdict.

Khill, 28, admits he killed Styres by shooting him twice with a 12 gauge shotgun. He's charged with second-degree murder, but is pleading not guilty — saying he believed Styres had a gun so he acted in self-defence.

Styres, from Oshweken, Ont. on the Six Nations of the Grand River was 29 when he was killed. Court heard he was trying to steal Khill's 2001 pickup, but wasn't carrying a gun when he was killed around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2016.

But the judge explained to the jury it's possible Khill still acted in self-defence as long it was "reasonable" that the Hamilton-area homeowner believed he was in danger.

Glithero said jurors will have to consider three questions when it comes to self-defence:

  • Did Peter Khill believe on reasonable grounds that Styres was using force or threatening to use force against him?
  • Did Khill shoot Styres to defend himself from a use of force or threat of force from Styres that he reasonably thought was taking place?
  • Was what Khill did reasonable considering the circumstances as he knew them or understood them to be?
Justice Stephen Glithero reminded provided jurors with several questions they'll have to answer in order to evaluate whether Khill fired in self-defence. (Marcela Prikryl/CBC)

The justice also told jurors they have three options when it comes to their verdict:

  • Not guilty
  • Guilty of manslaughter, but not second-degree murder
  • Guilty of second degree murder

A verdict of second-degree murder can only be reached if Khill had the state of mind required for murder, explained Glithero. That is, whether the Crown has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Khill either meant to kill Styres or to cause him bodily harm he knew was "so serious and dangerous" it was likely to cause the death.

Manslaughter refers to a homicide that's committed without the intention to cause death, although there may have been an intention to cause harm. 

Here the judge reminded jurors of testimony from Khill himself who said on the night of the shooting he loaded his gun and went outside his goal wasn't to kill whoever was out there, but to "defend myself." When asked in followup questions whether that meant causing serious bodily harm that could potentially kill someone else, Khill said "Yes."

He also reiterated that it's up to the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Khill's actions were "unlawful" and not self-defence — the accused is presumed innocent.

Crown says Khill took the law into his own hands

The judge summarized the Crown's position, saying they argue Khill was not acting in self-defence and that instead of calling the police and staying safe in his home when he realized his truck was being broken into, he "took the law into his own hands."

"Evaluate based on your common sense ... and life experience," Glithero told jurors before sending them off.

The accused, dressed in a dark suit, watched expressionless as the jurors filed out to decide his fate.

Jury asks about a 'reasonable person'

Around 5 p.m. lawyers, family members and media were called back into the courtroom to hear a question raised by the jury.

The 12 people asked whether the definition of a reasonable person in the judge's charge was based on everyday nature or limited to the night of the shooting alone.

Glithero explained the definition the court is looking for is whether a reasonable person with the same character and experience as Khill would think firing the shotgun was reasonable within the circumstances.

"Mr. Khill can think it's reasonable, but the question is whether, in your view, it's a reasonable reaction through the eyes of someone with Mr. Khill's qualities ... keeping in mind military training but also that he needs to obey the law."