When Peter Khill shot and killed a truck thief in his driveway two years ago, he was afraid for his life, his lawyer told the jurors who will decide whether the Hamilton, Ont.-area man acted reasonably – or whether he is guilty of murder.
In his closing arguments at Mr. Khill’s second-degree murder trial on Monday, defence lawyer Jeffrey Manishen said the then-26-year-old was acting reasonably, in self-defence, when he confronted Jonathan Styres with a shotgun in the dark.
Assistant Crown attorney Steve O’Brien argued Mr. Khill’s actions were “the opposite of reasonable.”
“Jonathan Styres could’ve been taken to jail by a policeman,” he argued in his own closing remarks. “Mr. Khill could have taken his truck in for repairs and gone on with his life … you have spent two weeks hearing and seeing what happened instead.”
Mr. Khill and his girlfriend were asleep inside their Binbrook, Ont., home on Feb. 4, 2016, when they woke around 3 a.m. to loud bangs in the driveway outside.
From the bedroom window, Mr. Khill could see in the pitch black that his truck lights were on. He fetched his shotgun from the bedroom closet, loaded it and headed outside.
In the driveway, the jury heard, Mr. Khill saw a man leaning into the passenger side of his 15-year-old pickup truck.
“Hey, hands up,” he says he yelled. When the man began to turn toward him, his arms raising, Mr. Khill fired two fatal blasts.
Mr. Styres, a 29-year-old father of two from Ohsweken, Ont., on the Six Nations reserve, was hit once in the chest and once in the back of his right shoulder.
The jury will begin verdict deliberations on Tuesday.
Mr. Manishen argued that Mr. Khill’s response was a textbook application of the training he had received as a military reservist five years earlier: He was being pro-active. There was a threat, and he needed to “neutralize” it.
But Mr. Khill did not intend to kill the thief when he headed outside, he argued – the gun was in safety mode, and his goal at that point was only to detain the man.
It was only after the confrontation – when Mr. Styres turned toward him, his arms rising – that he fired. That is the moment the jury must consider, he said.
“That’s a lot to think about in such short time, where so much happened so quickly,” Mr. Manishen acknowledged.
He pointed to the 911 call just moments after the shooting, and his client’s comments to the dispatcher, as “clear evidence” of self-defence.
“Why did he do what he did? He told the 911 operator: He did not want to lose his life,” he said.
Mr. O’Brien argued that Mr. Khill had had multiple opportunities to stop and assess the situation before it turned fatal.
Instead, he says Mr. Khill’s decisions that morning were a “maddening catalogue of overreaction, lack of action [and] rash action.”
“It is inexcusable that he did not call 911,” Mr. O’Brien said. “That call would’ve changed everything.”
During the trial, Mr. O’Brien had suggested to Mr. Khill that it could have been a teenager in his driveway that night. But Mr. Manishen stressed on Monday that the victim was an “experienced thief” who had a knife in his pocket and drugs in his system.
The case has been compared to the trial of Gerald Stanley, a Saskatchewan farmer whose acquittal sparked outrage in February after he had fatally shot Colten Boushie, a Cree man, on his rural property.
During the jury selection process in this trial, each prospective juror was asked whether the fact that the accused is a white person and the victim was an Indigenous person would affect their ability to approach the case without bias or prejudice.
On Monday, Mr. Manishen addressed the issue.
“Now that you’ve heard all the evidence, you can see that their respective races played no part [in this case] whatsoever,” he said. “It was so dark … and it happened so quickly … there was no way that [Mr. Styres] could know anything of Mr. Khill’s race – and Mr. Khill certainly never described anything about Mr. Styres’s.”
Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero began his charge to the jury on Monday, and will finish giving his instructions on Tuesday morning. The jury can find Mr. Khill guilty of second-degree murder, find him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter or find him not guilty.
Mr. Manishen urged the jury not to consider manslaughter as an option. That would merely be a “compromise,” he argued, reminding the jury that the onus is on the Crown to prove it was not self-defence.
“This young man, who lived to defend his country, wanted to continue to defend his own life,” he argued. “And that young man should be found not guilty.”
“There is not one law for ex-soldiers and one law for everyone else,” Mr. O’Brien countered. He urged the jury to find Mr. Khill guilty of second-degree murder.