The Ontario Crown Attorney’s Office is appealing the case of a former military reservist who was found not guilty in the shooting death of an Indigenous man in his driveway.
The Ministry of the Attorney-General confirmed in an e-mail a notice of appeal was filed by the Crown at the Court of Appeal on Thursday.
“As the matter is currently before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” ministry spokesperson Brian Gray said.
The victim, Jonathan Styres, was a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River territory. In a Facebook post on Friday, Barb General, director of the Six Nations Justice Department, said the community – which had been calling for an appeal – is “relieved” the Crown is moving ahead with one.
“The verdict has left people feeling like it is open season for violence on Indigenous people – we are grateful that the Crown is continuing to fight for justice in this case,” she said.
Peter Khill, 28, was found not guilty after a two-week trial in Hamilton last month.
He never denied that he killed Mr. Styres – a 29-year-old father of two who had been trying to steal Mr. Khill’s truck when he was shot – but argued he was acting in self-defence.
As a former reservist, he said he was applying the military training he’d received five years earlier. There was a threat and he needed to “neutralize” it, he said.
The jury’s not-guilty verdict sparked shock and outrage in First Nations communities across the province – particularly on the heels of the controversial acquittal in February of Saskatchewan’s Gerald Stanley, who was found not guilty in the fatal shooting of Colten Boushie, a Cree man, on his farm.
In that case, which the Saskatchewan Crown’s office chose not to appeal, Mr. Stanley’s defence team had argued the shooting was accidental, the result of a fluke “hangfire" of his gun.
According to the evidence presented at Mr. Khill’s trial, the then-26-year-old had been asleep inside his Binbrook, Ont., home on Feb. 4, 2016, when he and his girlfriend woke around 3 a.m. to the sounds of someone breaking into their truck outside.
Mr. Khill grabbed his shotgun from his bedroom closet, loaded it and went outside. There, he saw a man leaning into the passenger side of the pickup.
“Hey, hands up,” he yelled. When Mr. Styres turned toward him, arms rising, Mr. Khill fired. Mr. Styres died almost instantly, his body lying face-up in the muddy driveway next to the truck.
Mr. Khill’s defence lawyer, Jeffrey Manishen, said on Friday his client was disappointed by the news.
“After all of the attention his case has received, Mr. Khill was disappointed to learn that he will now have to retain counsel to respond to the Crown appeal against his acquittal,” he said.
“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." He added Mr. Khill wants the appeal to be heard as soon as possible.
According to a copy of the notice of appeal posted to Facebook by the Six Nations Justice Department, the Crown argues that Justice Stephen Glithero erred in his instructions to the jury on self-defence.
They also say he erred in permitting opinion evidence from a non-expert witness, who testified about the effects that Mr. Khill’s military training would have had on him so many years later, in a non-military scenario.
Over the phone Friday, Mr. Styres’s aunt Rhonda Johns said the family was “ecstatic” to receive the news the Crown would be moving forward with an appeal.
“We haven’t stopped smiling,” she said.
In a statement provided to The Globe and Mail after the verdict, Mr. Styres’s family, including his mother, Deborah Hill, called on the provincial and federal governments “to implement actions reflecting the Truth and Reconciliation Report … addressing systemic discrimination within the Canadian judicial system.”
On Friday, Ms. Johns said it felt like “one step closer to justice.”
Lindsay Hill, the mother of Mr. Styres’s two daughters, said in a statement Friday that “this case, and the crusade for #JusticeForJon is long from over. In my eyes it has only begun.”