Peter Khill does not deny that he shot and killed Jonathan Styres, an Indigenous man who was trying to steal his pickup truck in the driveway of his rural Binbrook, Ont., area home.
The jury’s job, at the 28-year-old’s second-degree murder trial, will be to decide whether the white homeowner did so intentionally.
“This case is about a killing that never should have happened,” assistant Crown attorney James Nadel told the jurors in his opening remarks on Tuesday.
“On Feb. 4, 2016, at about 3 o’clock in the morning, Jonathan Styres tried to steal Peter Khill’s truck from his driveway,” Mr. Nadel said.
“In response, Peter Khill got out of bed, grabbed his shotgun, loaded it with two shells and left his house. He approached Jonathan, raised his gun, took aim, and at close range, pulled the trigger. He racked the pump-action shotgun, chambering another round and pulled the trigger again.”
Mr. Styres, a father of two from Ohsweken, Ont., on the Six Nations reserve, was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the shoulder.
In a brief statement of agreed facts on Tuesday, defence lawyer Jeffrey Manishen said his client, who has no criminal record and has pleaded not guilty, admits he killed Mr. Styres.
“He did in fact shoot John Styres twice with a shotgun,” Mr. Manishen told the five women and seven men on the jury. “[Mr. Styres] died of those injuries.”
The trial, which bears some similarities to the racially fraught trial and acquittal earlier this year of Gerald Stanley, a white Saskatchewan farmer accused of murdering Colten Boushie, an Indigenous man, will be under close watch by First Nation leaders in Ontario.
In court on Tuesday, Mr. Nadel said Mr. Khill’s then-girlfriend (now wife) heard the gunshots and called 911.
“She told police she had been woken by noise, someone was trying to steal her boyfriend’s truck and her boyfriend shot him,” Mr. Nadel said.
Police arrived within minutes and attempted CPR on Mr. Styres. He died almost immediately, his body lying face-up in the muddy driveway, a short distance from Mr. Khill’s 15-year-old pickup truck.
A spent shotgun shell was found by his feet. A screwdriver lay by his hand and a second was found by the passenger door of the truck, which was open; the door’s lock was punched in and the ignition damaged. Mud was caked on his palms and knees.
The evidence, Mr. Nadel said, will show that the victim was lower to the ground than his shooter, either fully facing or partly turned toward the truck when he was shot from less than 12 feet away.
At least one of the shots, Mr. Nadel said, was fired at a “near perpendicular angle.”
Mr. Khill, who was not injured, was arrested in the driveway. A Remington 12-gauge shotgun was seized from inside his house.
Three Hamilton police officers testified on Tuesday about their first moments on the scene at the rural property.
It was so dark when Constable Jeffery Hahn pulled up that he was almost blinded by the home’s porch light – able to make out only the silhouette of a woman on the front steps.
“Where’s the gun?” he remembered calling out from the foot of the driveway.
A man’s voice yelled back: “It’s at the back of the hallway in the house.”
“Where’s the guy?” Constable Hahn yelled back. The man directed him to the truck, telling him the victim wasn’t breathing. As he began chest compressions on Mr. Styres, Constable Hahn said he told Mr. Khill – who was on the phone, pacing – to stay put.
His colleague, Constable Matthew Robinson, arrived a few minutes later and testified that he was directed to arrest Mr. Khill.
Mr. Khill – a millwright and former military reservist – was wearing only plaid boxer shorts, a Pittsburgh Penguins hoodie and brown slip-on shoes as he was handcuffed. He had blood on his right forearm and fingers, knees and shins.
“I even tried to save him,” the arresting officer recalled Mr. Khill uttering, after he informed him he was being arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Once Mr. Styres was pronounced dead, Constable Robinson told Mr. Khill in the cruiser that the charge would be upgraded to murder. Constable Robinson asked Mr. Khill whether he had any questions.
“What do I even ask?” the officer recalled Mr. Khill asking. Constable Robinson assured him it was going to be all right.
“He said, ‘like, I’m a soldier, that’s how we were trained. I came out, he raised his hands to, like, gun height. It was dark, I thought I was in trouble,’ ” the officer recalled.
After a pause, he said Mr. Khill added: “Does self-defence mean anything in court?”
“He seemed kind of in awe of what had happened,” Constable Robinson recalled, describing him as co-operative.
The trial will resume on Wednesday in Hamilton. It is expected to last three to four weeks.
With a report from The Canadian Press