'Why not call 911?' Crown grills Peter Khill about the night he killed Jon Styres
Crown suggests Hamilton homeowner could have called police
Peter Khill told Hamilton court Tuesday that on night he shot Jon Styres, his military training was triggered and he stopped thinking like a civilian until he could "neutralize the threat."
Around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2016, Khill looked out his window and realized someone was trying to steal his truck. In that moment, he said, the lessons he learned over four years in the Canadian Armed Forces reserves came flooding back.
The Hamilton-area homeowner testified in Superior Court that he was prepared to defend himself when he ran from his bedroom and into that cold night, wearing just boxers and a T-shirt, but carrying a loaded 12 gauge shotgun.
Moments later, Jon Styres, a 29-year-old man from Ohsweken, Ont., on the Six Nations reserve, lay dying in Khill's dark, muddy driveway after being hit by two close-range shotgun blasts.
But the fatal shooting didn't need to happen, argued assistant Crown attorney Steve O'Brien, if Khill had chosen instead to pick up the phone and call police.
Khill has admitted to killing Styres, who prosecutors say was trying to steal his 15-year-old pickup, and is charged with second-degree murder. He's pleading not guilty.
In his opening statement, defence lawyer Jeff Manishen told jurors his client's actions were based on self-defence and his training as a Canadian Armed Forces reservist.
"It was not a matter of going outside to shoot. It was not a matter of going outside to protect a truck," Manishen said. "He was simply there to stop a person."
Military training doesn't disappear
The first witness he called was Walter Sroka, Khill's superior officer in the 56 Field Regiment in Brantford, Ont., who explained training for soldiers is based on repetition.
"You do it so much you don't have to think about what you're doing," he said, adding that training doesn't just disappear after you leave the military and it can come back in some situations as if someone "turns a switch."
Three specific lessons Sroka mentioned from that training are to evaluate threats and act proactively, never point a weapon at someone unless you mean to use it and that soldiers should never do anything alone or risk becoming a casualty.
Khill was alone on the night of the fatal shooting, but told prosecutors despite being "a little bit scared" he felt he needed to "neutralize any threat that was there."
'Basically your worst nightmare'
Khill described using his military training to move quietly and open doors almost silently as he went out the back door and walked through a breezeway between the house and garage that brought him to within a dozen feet of Styres, who was bent over the passenger seat of the truck and did not appear to notice his arrival.
Manishen asked him to demonstrate what he did next and Khill shouted "Hey, hands up!" in a loud, sharp voice that caused people in the courtroom to gasp and sit up in surprise.
I intended to defend myself.- Peter Khill
That's when Khill said Styres' hands started to move and he fired twice.
"Basically it was your worst nightmare, where someone backed away from the vehicle, both arms came together and went like this," he said, standing up from the witness box and swinging his hands from their lowest point up to about waist height.
"Did you intend to kill the man?" asked Manishen.
"No," said Khill. "I intended to defend myself."
During his testimony, a woman sitting with Styres' supporters bolted from the courtroom in tears and could be heard sobbing outside.
Crown asks why police weren't called
Under cross-examination, O'Brien suggested Styres was merely startled by the homeowner's sudden shout in the darkness, and that's what caused him to start in surprise and move his hands.
He also challenged Khill, saying that his testimony seemed to contradict what he told a 911 dispatcher and the officer who arrested him for murder that night — that Styres' hands were already in a shooting position when he began pulling the trigger.
"I didn't wait until [his hands] came all the way up," Khill confirmed. "As soon as I thought he had a gun I fired."
Court has heard Styres was not carrying a gun. A folding knife was found on the 29-year-old, but it was closed and in his pocket.
O'Brien raised several alternatives to heading outside with a loaded gun, asking Khill why he didn't call police, turn on a light and open the front door to yell, or even fire a round into the front yard to scare whoever was outside away.
The Crown specifically asked Khill where his cell phone was and pointed out that despite his time in the reserves, he had been a civilian for about five years by that point.
"Why not call 911? Everyone knows 911, you pick up the phone and call the cops."
Styres a 'human' not a threat
Khill admitted his phone was "probably" on his bedside table and that calling the police was reasonable, but added "I thought my response was reasonable as well."
O'Brien pressed again, suggesting the person outside could have been "a goofy teenaged kid, not some armed Taliban insurgent ... it wasn't worth a moment to call 911?"
"There was a threat outside and I did what I needed to neutralize it," responded Khill.
O'Brien disagreed, ending his questioning by stating.
"There was a guy stealing your truck that you shot twice and killed. He was not a 'threat you needed to neutralize' but a human being."
The trial will continue Wednesday.