'Cruel' killing or self-defence? Lawyers make closing arguments in Khill trial

Two pictures of Peter Khill were painted for jurors Monday. In one he's a cruel killer who snuck up on the man stealing his truck and gunned him down. In the other, he's a military man who fired in self-defence.

Defence lawyer says trial is not about race

Peter Khill is charged with second-degree murder for the death of Jon Styres, but argues he acted in self-defence. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Two pictures of Peter Khill were painted for jurors Monday. In one he's a cruel killer who snuck up on the man stealing his truck and gunned him down. In the other, he's a military man who fired in self-defence.

During their closing addresses, lawyers on both sides of the trial implored jury members seated in Hamilton Superior Court to see the 28-year-old from their perspective.

How the 12 jurors see Khill will ultimately decide whether he's guilty as charged of second-degree murder or deemed to have acted in self-defence.

Over the past two weeks court has heard that Khill, a former Canadian Forces reservist, doesn't deny killing Jon Styres with two close range blasts from a 12 gauge shotgun in the early morning hours of Feb. 4, 2016. 

Race cannot, it does not, play a role in the case.- Jeff Manishen, defence lawyer

Defence lawyer Jeff Manishen said his client should be acquitted because it was a "lawful" killing and the former soldier was only acting according to his training. 

"This young man who lived to defend his country wanted to continue to defend his own life," said Manishen. "That young man should be found not guilty."

No gun, but still self-defence

But assistant Crown attorney Steve O'Brien said Khill's actions showed he heeded only parts of his training. He seemed to only follow the parts that covered how to stealthily approach and kill an enemy combatant.

"The other rules, he completely ignored, that civilian life is not a war zone, that soldiers must take time to genuinely assess the situation," he said. "There is not one law for ex-soldiers and one law for everybody else."

Prosecutors have admitted Styres, a 29-year-old Indigenous man from the Six Nations of the Grand River, was trying to steal Khill's 2001 GMC pickup truck when he was shot, but maintain the killing didn't need to happen.

This photo of the damaged steering column in Peter Khill's truck was entered as an exhibit in the trial. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

O'Brien described the events that led up the the shooting as "a maddening catalogue of overreaction. When 30 seconds of ... calming down and thinking on the the part of Khill was all that was needed to keep this from happening at all."​

Jurors were told that on the night of the shooting Khill and his girlfriend were sleeping in their home just outside Hamilton when they were woken up by two loud banging sounds, looked out the window and realized the lights in the truck were on.

Manishen said Khill's military experience came flooding back and he ran to the bedroom closet, grabbed his shotgun, loaded it with two shells and ran out the back door to "confront and detain" whoever was out there.

It was an outright savage killing. He murdered him."- Steve O'Brien, assistant Crown attorney

When he came upon Styres bent over the passenger seat, Manishen said his client commanded the other man to put his hands up, but instead he turned toward him, with his hands sweeping forward in a motion that led Khill to believe he had a gun, so he fired, twice.

Court heard Styres did not, in fact, have a gun, but Manishen said that doesn't change his client's claim of self-defence.

"The law provides that somebody may actually be mistaken whether there was a real threat, providing the person honestly believed he was being threatened and there was reasonable grounds for that belief," he explained.

Manishen said Khill is not a "trigger-happy, rash, callous individual," but "someone who had his military experience and reacted to it."

Jurors were shown this photo of the home where Jon Styres was shot and killed. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

O'Brien disagreed, recalling testimony from Khill's superior officer with the reserves who said military training also includes gathering information and never "charging blindly" alone into danger.

"It is inexcusable that he did not call 911," said the Crown, who also suggested Khill's shouted instructions caused Styres to jump in surprise, which was enough motion for the man with the gun to feel frightened and open fire.

O'Brien also referred to evidence from a a blood spatter expert and Dr. Jane Turner, who completed a consultation report based an autopsy of Styres, who said they believe it's possible Styres was facing the truck when he was shot not once, but twice.

"Mr. Khill does not want to know or admit that Styres was bent double, or even on his knees .. when he was shot again," said the prosecutor. "But what is unquestionably true is that Styres was helpless. He was dying and Peter Khill shot him again."

Hamilton police officer Tim Knapp testified he removed this gun from the Peter Khill's home on the night Styres was shot. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

He added that in the Crown's opinion, Khill's actions were brutal.

"What he did to Jon Styres was not just unnecessary and needless, it was cruel," said O'Brien, his finger punching the air with each point for emphasis. "He wiped that man out in the driveway of his house ... it was an outright savage killing. He murdered him."

Trial not about race, says lawyer

In his closing, Manishen also touched on the race of the two men — a topic jury members haven't heard about since they were selected. During that process they were asked whether the fact the accused is white and the victim Indigenous would affect how they viewed evidence.

In the pre-dawn pitch-dark there was no way Khill could have known Styres was Indigenous, said the lawyer — Khill didn't see skin colour, he only saw a threat.

"Race cannot, it does not, play a role in the case," said Manishen.

It's an important point because the trial has drawn comparisons to the controversial trial of the man accused of killing Indigenous man Colten Boushie where a reportedly all-white jury in Saskatchewan reached a not-guilty verdict.

Justice Stephen Glithero began his charge to the jury Monday and plans to continue it Tuesday morning, before the jury will begin deliberations.