What the Stanley jury likely considered in rendering its not guilty verdict

CBC News speaks to legal experts to explain some of the issues the jury may have taken into consideration when rendering its verdict.

Jury's decision has sparked accusations of racism and calls to change the system

A woman cries during a rally in Edmonton following Gerald Stanley's acquittal in the shooting death of Colten Boushie in rural Saskatchewan. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Unlike in the U.S., where jurors are permitted to speak freely to the media after they've rendered a verdict, Canadian jurors are legally barred from discussing the proceedings.

This means it's unlikely the public will ever know the reasoning behind a Saskatchewan jury's decision to acquit Gerald Stanley, 56, of second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie.

The verdict has sparked accusations of racism and outrage that Stanley's defence team was able to exclude members of the Indigenous community as potential jurors.

It has also prompted legal questions about the case and the basis on which the jury of five men and seven women may have reached its verdict.

CBC News spoke to legal experts to explain some of the issues the jury may have taken into consideration.

Boushie, 22, was killed by a single gunshot to the back of his head after an altercation between Stanley, Boushie and four other young adults from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation on Aug. 9, 2016. They had driven an SUV onto Stanley's rural property near Biggar, an hour's drive west of Saskatoon.

Stanley testified he had fired warning shots and, as he approached the SUV, believed his gun was empty.

He said when he reached inside Boushie's SUV to turn it off, the gun went off accidentally, but that he never pulled the trigger.

Instead, his defence team argued the gun went off because of "hang fire" — a delayed discharge that resulted from having pulled the trigger earlier.

The prosecution dismissed that theory as nonsense, arguing there was nothing wrong with the gun, and that Stanley had pulled the trigger to kill Boushie.

Colten Boushie was killed on a farm near Biggar, Sask., in August 2016. (Facebook)

At the end of the trial, the jury was left with three choices: convict Stanley of second-degree murder, convict him of the lesser charge of manslaughter, or acquit.

"Any one of those three could be said to be reasonably supported by the evidence," said Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer David Butt. 

Credibility of Crown witnesses

Given that Boushie was shot in the head, as well as the fact Stanley arguably had a motive to use force, it wasn't unreasonable to suggest the killing was intentional, meaning second-degree murder was a viable charge, said Michael Plaxton, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Law.

However, he said some credibility issues with Crown witnesses likely made it harder to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was intentional.

Cassidy Cross-Whitstone, 18, one of the SUV passengers, testified that he lied about trying to break into a truck on another property near the Stanley farm and about how much he'd had to drink that day.

Another SUV passenger, Belinda Jackson, 24, also changed her story, making no mention in a previous statement to police that Stanley had shot Boushie. But she later told jurors she saw the defendant shoot him twice in the head while he was sitting in the SUV.

"Speaking generally, if the people who are telling the story are not believable, or aspects of their version of events are not credible or inconsistent, then it becomes more difficult to convince the jury that's really what happened," said Steven Penney, a University of Alberta law professor.

What about manslaughter? 

If the jury did not believe Stanley intended to kill Boushie, the option of convicting him of manslaughter was available. Put simply, manslaughter is a dangerous act that causes death, but without intent to kill.

Canada has an extremely broad manslaughter law, in particular when a person is using a firearm in a careless manner, said Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor. A manslaughter conviction follows, then, whenever a person who is using a firearm in a careless manner ought to have known that someone could be seriously injured from the way he or she was was using the firearm, Roach said.

"For me, one of the enduring mysteries ... is why did [the jury] reject manslaughter," he said.

A Saskatchewan jury acquited Gerald Stanley of second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

Penney agreed that an argument could certainly be made for a manslaughter conviction based on the evidence that Stanley was grossly negligent by brandishing a weapon in a way that was very dangerous and resulted in the death of Boushie. 

But he said there's also an argument to be made that Stanley did take precautions, that he did attempt to figure out if the weapon was loaded at the time of his confrontation with Boushie. If that's true, or if there's a reasonable doubt, that could make a manslaughter conviction challenging, Penney said.

"I'm not suggesting that was the correct way to view it … but it's not crazy if that's the way the evidence was presented."

Hang fire and two options

Plaxton, in a series of tweets, argued that based on the lack of statistical evidence of ''hang fire," the reasonableness for the jury to accept this theory seemed "pretty thin."

And if the jurors rejected the hang fire theory, Plaxton wrote, this means they may have felt they had been left two options: either convict Stanley of second-degree murder, or acquit.

"Once left with the all-or-nothing choice, the jury was left to ask whether it was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that, in the midst of all that chaos in a blindingly-quick period of time, Stanley intended to fire the fatal shot.

"We know what it decided."


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.