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Youth’s murder charge downgraded to manslaughter in police officer’s death

Constable Garrett Styles was killed during a routine traffic stop gone awry in June 2011.

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A quadriplegic 15-year-old York Region youth charged with first-degree murder in the death of a police constable last year has had the charge reduced to manslaughter after a judge concluded there was insufficient evidence for the murder charge to go ahead.

The broad difference between murder and manslaughter is the question of intent. Manslaughter usually implies a homicide was an accident.

Constable Garrett Styles died in June 2011 while conducting a routine traffic stop on busy Highway 48 near East Gwillimbury.

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The accused youth, who was 14 at the time and cannot be identified, had allegedly taken his parents' van without permission and had no driver's licence.

Police said he tried to speed away from the police stop, and that as he did so the van tipped onto Const. Styles, dragging and crushing him.

The 32-year-old officer died before he reached hospital. The incident also left the youth paralyzed for life.

The preliminary hearing on the murder charge began at the Newmarket courthouse in June. The accused is free on bail.

Because of his injuries he initially participated in the proceedings via a telephone link, but later he was able to attend court in a wheelchair.

The boy's lawyer, David Berg, said he had explained to his client the difference in penalty between the two charges – a murder conviction means automatic life imprisonment, manslaughter can also mean life, but has no minimum sentence – but had had no chance to ask him how he felt about the reduced charge.

"I assume he's a bit relieved. But you're still a kid who's a quadriplegic and is facing a very serious charge," he said.

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In court Monday were the youth's parents and some family friends. So too were the parents, relatives and friends of Const. Styles.

Mr. Berg said he expected the manslaughter charge to go to trial before Mr. Justice Peter Bourque some time in the new year.

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At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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