TORONTO — A Hamilton-area homeowner who gunned down a would-be car thief seconds after confronting him in the dead of night succeeded on Thursday in getting the country’s top court to hear his case.
The Supreme Court agreed to weigh in at the request of Peter Khill, who was initially acquitted of second-degree murder in the killing of Jon Styres on Feb. 4, 2016. However, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered him to stand trial again, prompting him to seek leave to appeal.
Khill, of Binbrook, Ont., successfully argued at trial he was acting in self-defence when he twice shot Styres, of Ohsweken, Ont., outside his semi-rural home.
He maintained his four years of training as an army reservist had kicked in when he instinctively grabbed a loaded Remington shotgun in his bedroom, and went barefoot outside into the frigid darkness wearing a T-shirt and boxers to confront Styres.
Within seconds of spotting Styres leaning into his 15-year-old pickup truck, Khill yelled, “Hands up!” and opened fire twice from just a few metres away. He hit Styres, 29, squarely in the chest. Styres had no gun but may have had a screwdriver.
Only then did Khill’s girlfriend call 911 to the property on the edge of Hamilton.
Khill, who was 26 at the time, testified in his own defence that he had no choice but to open fire on the father of two from the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, about 30 minutes away.
“It was a real-life threat assessment,” Khill testified. “I felt that I was being threatened and I felt that I was not in control of the situation.”
A person is allowed to use reasonable force to alleviate a threat to themselves or others.
On initial appeal of the June 2018 acquittal, the prosecution argued that Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero had failed to instruct the jury properly about Khill’s role in the confrontation that led to the shooting.
The Court of Appeal agreed, saying Khill’s actions were a potentially significant factor in whether his opening fire was reasonable.
“The trial judge failed to instruct the jury to consider Mr. Khill’s conduct during the incident leading up to the shooting of Mr. Styres when assessing the reasonableness of that shooting,” Justice David Doherty wrote for the appellate court. “(It) 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.”
The case initially took on racial overtones because Styres was Indigenous, although there was no evidence Khill knew that when he opened fire.