Moments after he shot and killed Jonathan Styres in the driveway of his rural Ontario home, Peter Khill told a 911 dispatcher he had feared the man was going to shoot him first.
At Mr. Khill’s murder trial on Wednesday, the jury heard a recording of the frantic 911 call his girlfriend, Melinda Benko, made from inside the house.
“At that point, I didn’t know if it was Pete [that had been shot], or if it was another person,” recalled Ms. Benko, who married Mr. Khill last month and is six months pregnant. “I was hoping that Pete would shoot first if he had to.”
Mr. Khill, 28, does not deny he shot and killed Mr. Styres, a 29-year-old father of two from Ohsweken, Ont., on the Six Nations reserve, early on Feb. 4, 2016. The question for the jury is whether he did so intentionally. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
The case − which First Nation leaders are watching closely − has been compared with the trial and acquittal in February of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, who was charged with murdering Colten Boushie, an Indigenous man.
“I think to start from the beginning, we need to circle back to what happened the week before ... to make sense of this entire situation,” Ms. Benko told assistant crown attorney Steve O’Brien.
In the days leading up to the shooting, she said, she had twice heard what sounded like someone trying to punch in a code on their back-door keypad. Mr. Khill changed the passcode, but the pair was still on edge.
They had been in the house in Binbrook, Ont., for seven months and had heard “chatter” from neighbours about high rates of break-and-enters, she said. Ms. Benko was particularly anxious because Mr. Khill, a millwright and former military reservist, travelled often for work, sometimes leaving her alone for days or weeks.
The morning of the shooting, Ms. Benko recalled being woken by two loud bangs outside. She shook her boyfriend awake. Two more bangs quickly followed.
Mr. Khill jumped out of bed and looked out the window.
“The truck lights are on,” she recalled him saying. She ran to the window. Mr. Khill, she said, grabbed his shotgun from the bedroom closet and loaded it. He told her to stay there and headed outside.
She kept an eye out the window while Mr. Khill headed out the back door. It was almost pitch black, but she testified that she could see the silhouette of a man in the pickup truck, leaning over the illuminated dashboard.
When Mr. Khill arrived out front, she heard muffled yells.
“I’m going to suggest to you the words could’ve been ‘Hey, hands up.’ Is that something that could have been said?” Mr. Khill’s defence lawyer, Jeffrey Manishen, asked her during cross-examination. She said she could not be certain.
Within moments, she heard gunshots and saw sparks. She grabbed her cell phone and called 911. In court on Wednesday, Ms. Benko wiped tears from her eyes as that call was played for the jury.
“Somebody’s been shot,” she is heard saying frantically.
“Okay, who was it that got shot?” the dispatcher asks her.
“The person trying to steal the truck,” she says.
“Okay who ... shot him?” the dispatcher asks.
“My boyfriend. He went out with a shotgun ... because we were both scared from the noise we heard.” she says. The dispatcher tells her to wait inside and that police and paramedics are on the way.
“He just wouldn’t shoot unless something was seriously wrong,” she says. “So that’s why I’m terrified.”
When Mr. Khill returns to the house, she recalled on Wednesday, he looked “devastated.”
In the recording, he can be heard telling a crying Ms. Benko the man is dead. Taking the phone, he leaves the gun against the stairs in the hallway and returns outside.
“He was gasping for air so I was trying to do CPR on him,” he tells the dispatcher. “He put his hands up −not like … to surrender, but his hands up pointing at me. It was pitch black, it looked like he was literally about to shoot me, so I shot him. I mean, I didn’t want to lose my life, so I kinda” he trails off.
The dispatcher asks him if the man had a gun.
“Looking at him now, it doesn’t look like it. He has knives,” Mr. Khill says.
When police arrived, Mr. Khill directed them to Mr. Styres’s body, lying face-up in the muddy driveway next to the 15-year-old pickup truck. The passenger door was open; the lock punched in and the ignition damaged. A closed knife was clipped to the inside of his jeans pocket.