In a unanimous decision, a Hamilton-area man who killed a car thief in front of his home has been ordered to stand trial on the charge of second-degree murder.
The Ontario Court of Appeal has overturned Peter Khill’s (“Khill”) finding of not guilty.
On appeal, the court has ruled that the trial judge failed to instruct the jury to consider Khill’s conduct leading up to the moment he pulled the trigger and killed Jon Styres (“Styres”), a First Nations man.
In June 2018 (please see our blog regarding the trial), Khill, a homeowner and former army reservist, was found not guilty following a 12-day jury trial where he maintained that he fired his gun in self-defence. An individual can use reasonable force to alleviate a threat to themselves or others under the laws of self-defence in Canada.
On February 4, 2016 at approximately 3 a.m., Khill and his girlfriend were woken up by two loud, banging noises. When he looked outside, Khill saw that the lights were on in his 2001 GMC pickup truck.
Given his military training, Khill proceeded to grab a 12 gauge shotgun from his bedroom closet. He loaded it with two shells and ran outside to confront Styres, who was trying to steal his truck. He came up behind Styres, who was leaning over the passenger-side seat, and shouted “Hey, hands up!”. Styres reacted by turning toward Khill with his hands sweeping forward in a motion that allegedly led Khill to believe that he had a gun. Khill argued that this response provoked him to fire two close-range shots that killed Styres, almost immediately.
At his trial, Khill told the court:
I felt that I was being threatened and that I wasn’t in control of the situation. I needed to gain control of the situation and neutralize any threat that was there. … I thought my life was in danger and I think the right to self-defence is overlapping between military and civilian life.
The Crown prosecutor argued that Styres did not pose a reasonable threat and that Khill and his girlfriend should have called 911 and waited for police to arrive, rather than approach Styres with a loaded shotgun.
At the trial, the jury learned that Styres did not have a gun that night and was only carrying a folding knife in his pocket.
Khill pleaded not guilty and his lawyer argued that the shooting was “justified” as Khill believed that Styres had a gun and he feared for his life. Furthermore, it was argued that Khill was following his training as a military reservist and was acting reasonably to defend himself under the circumstances. A Hamilton jury found Khill not guilty of the murder of Styres.
At the appeal, the Crown prosecutor argued that the trial judge made four errors. It was argued that three of the errors involved instructions to the jury regarding self-defence and the fourth error was in regard to the admissibility of evidence from an expert.
The appeal court agreed with one of the Crown’s submissions of an error by the trial judge, allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial on the basis that the trial judge failed to appropriately instruct the jury. Specifically, the trial judge failed to instruct the jury to consider Khill’s conduct leading up to the moment the trigger was pulled leaving them incompetent to evaluate the “reasonableness” of his actions.
The Appeal Court said:
Mr. Khil’s role in the incident leading up to the shooting was potentially a significant factor in the assessment of the reasonableness of the shooting. The failure to explain that relevance and to instruct the jury on the need to consider Mr. Khill’s conduct throughout the incident in assessing the reasonableness of the shooting left the jury unequipped to grapple with what may have been a crucial question in the evaluation of the reasonableness of Mr. Khill’s act. On this basis, the acquittal must be set aside and a new trial ordered.
Khill’s lawyer has stated that he is reviewing the appeal court decision and considering whether to make an application for an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Khill is also facing an ongoing civil lawsuit for more than $2 million brought by Styres’ spouse and two young daughters.
We will continue to follow any updates regarding this case and will provide any new developments in this blog.
In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal defence lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trust our experienced criminal lawyers to handle your defence with diligence, strategy and expertise.