'It feels like a little bit of hope': Crown appeals Peter Khill not guilty verdict

The Crown is appealing the not guilty verdict for Peter Khill in the killing of Jon Styres, saying the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury about self-defence and let an unqualified witness give opinion evidence on military training.

Indigenous leaders across Ontario had called for an appeal in killing 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 Crown is appealing the not guilty verdict for Peter Khill in the killing of Jon Styres, saying the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury about self-defence and let an unqualified witness give opinion evidence on military training.

"I can confirm that today, the Crown filed a Notice of Appeal in the matter of R. v. Khill with the Ontario Court of Appeal," wrote Brian Gray, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, in an email to CBC News on Thursday. 

"As the matter is currently before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Khill, a Hamilton-area homeowner, admitted he fired two shotgun blasts that killed Styres, who appeared to be trying to steal his truck on the night of Feb. 4, 2016. The 28-year-old 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.

Prosecutors argued he could have stayed in his house and called 911, but a jury acquitted Khill on June 27.

The 12-day trial was held in Hamilton Superior Court. The Crown is asking for the acquittal to be set aside and for a new trial to be held.

'No justice done' 

Debbie Hill, Styres's mother, said she felt "just terrible" after the verdict was reached.

"I think the whole family was at that point devastated," said his aunt, Rhonda Johns. "We were quite hurt and we felt that there was no justice done ... we just felt lost, lost for words because of the shock."

But on Friday they had something to feel positive about.

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

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

Community relieved

That feeling was echoed by others from Six Nations of the Grand River who celebrated news of the appeal.

"There's real sense of relief that the appeal will be heard," said community member Nahnda Garlow.

"It feels like a little bit of hope," she added. "There's been so many cases where the news goes in the other direction, that there won't be an appeal or there aren't grounds for an appeal … like the Gerald Stanley acquittal."

The verdict has left people feeling like it is open season for violence on Indigenous people.- Barb General, director of the Six Nations Justice Department

Khill's trial 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 in August 2016 by Stanley, a white farmer.

In that case the verdict was reached by a jury without any visibly Indigenous jurors. The decision led to outrage across the country and a pledge from federal ministers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to change "systemic issues" in the justice system.

The similarities between the cases were noted by members of Six Nations before Khill's trial began. But 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.

Barb General, director of the Six Nations Justice Department echoed Garlow's sense of relief at the Crown's plan to appeal Khill's verdict.

"The verdict has left people feeling like it is open season for violence on Indigenous people," she said. "We are grateful that the Crown is continuing to fight for justice in this case."

Hamilton criminal lawyer Jeff Manishen defended Khill during the criminal trial and said his client is "disappointed" that "after all of the attention his case has received" he will 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. He said Khill wants the appeal to be heard as soon as possible.

Four grounds for appeal

Court documents lay out four grounds for the 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.

Indigenous leaders criticized verdict

Styres was from Ohsweken, Ont., on the Six Nations reserve. Elected-chief Ava Hill was among those calling for an appeal and spoke with newly elected Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, asking her to challenge the not-guilty verdict, which was criticized by Indigenous leaders across the province.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald issued a statement describing Styres as "another victim of senseless violence" and said Indigenous people across Canada still face prejudice and racism that shakes their confidence in the justice system.

"This sort of extreme violence — shooting an unarmed man — is not acceptable in Canada," she said. "No one should place the value of a possession over the sacred life of a human being."

Johns said the trial was tough on Styre's family, but they're willing to go through it again.

"If justice is going to be served then we will do it again, as a family. I think right now we are Jonathan's voice because we are his immediate family and we loved him."