SIX NATIONS — Frustration and emotions were running high in the indigenous community this week after a Hamilton jury acquitted Peter Khill of second degree murder in the shooting death of Jonathan Styres.
Peter Khill, 28, admitted he killed Jon Styres on the morning of Feb. 4, 2016, but pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, saying he fired in self-defence when he thought Styres was pointing a gun at him.
Styres did not have a gun at the time of the shooting, the trial heard. Lindsay Hill, the mother of Styres’ children broke into loud sobs and had to leave the courtroom after the jury delivered its verdict.
Hill released a statement late last week, saying “There is a hole in my heart that will always be there. There has not been a day that I have not missed Jon since his life was unnecessarily taken. My heart breaks every time my daughters hit a new milestone. I have had to watch my daughter Sophia when she was two years old look out the window and cry saying “daddy where are you!” My daughters will not get to grow up with their father. The man who killed Jon took that away from Sophia and Zoey.”
Lawyers for Khill argued that his military training caused the man to respond to a threat in the way he did.
However, the family of Styres argues that no military experts were permitted to testify, instead the courts heard the opinion of a lay-person as an expert.
Hill asked in her statement: “Is this what the Canadian Military teaches?”
Indigenous leaders said Wednesday they were shocked and disappointed by a Hamilton jury’s decision to acquit Khill.
Six Nations Elected Council released a statement calling for an appeal to the verdict saying they “join other Indigenous voices expressing shock and disappointment at the “not guilty” verdict by the jury in the trial of Peter Khill”.
“How can Indigenous people have faith in the relationship with Canada when the justice system fails to hold anyone accountable for the taking of a life?” said Six Nations Elected Chief Ava Hill. “These are real people,” said Elected Chief Ava Hill. “Jonathan Styres, Colten Boushie, Tina Fontaine and Cindy Galdue – they were all born with mothers and fathers, raised as children with hopes and dreams and were loved as adults with families and responsibilities. It is unfathomable that their tragic deaths are unanswered by the Canadian justice system.
“I know this has been a very emotional trial, a very tough trial for everybody,” Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero said after Khill’s acquittal. “I appreciate that everyone has kept their cool and behaved in a manner appropriate to courtroom proceedings.”
The trial heard that Khill and Benko awoke to the sound of banging outside their rural home early on a February morning in 2016. Khill looked out the window and saw Styres inside his truck, the jury heard. Khill loaded his shotgun, left the home through the back door and went to confront Styres, court heard.
At trial Khill testified that he had yelled at Styres to put his hands up and fired as Styres began to turn towards him. Styres was facing sideways with his hands at waist height when he was shot, Crown attorney Steve O’Brien told the jury. Only after Khill fired two shots at Styres did Benko call 911.
The Crown argued at trial that Styres did not pose a reasonable threat to Khill and Benko while they were inside their locked home, and that Khill should have called 911 and waited for police rather than run out of the house with a loaded shotgun.
Manishen told the jury Khill was simply following his training as a military reservist to “neutralize” a threat to his life.
“Soldiers react proactively, that’s how they are trained,” Manishen said in his closing address. “Mr. Khill said that’s why he acted the way he acted. To take control of the situation.”
Khill’s trial garnered attention for its similarities to a recent Saskatchewan case, in which white farmer Gerald Stanley was acquitted in the shooting death of young Indigenous man Colten Boushie.
`It is unfathomable that their tragic deaths are unanswered by the Canadian justice system.”
Colten Boushie’s cousin, Jade Tootoosis, issued a statement saying the not-guilty verdict fits into a pattern of discrimination against Indigenous victims and exoneration of white settlers.
“I shake my head and cry in fury. How is this happening right now? How is this happening AGAIN!?” said Tootoosis.
“Where is it acceptable to grab a gun and shoot instead of picking up the phone and calling the cops?”
A spokeswoman for Indigenous advocacy group Justice of Our Stolen Children called Khill’s acquittal “typical.”
“For some reason, when Indigenous people are killed by non-Indigenous people, it is very often considered justifiable homicide,” said Robyn Pitawanakwat.
Her organization has been camped outside the Saskatchewan legislature since February, in protest of Stanley’s acquittal and the acquittal of Manitoba man Raymond Cormier, charged with second-degree murder in the death of Indigenous teenager Tina Fontaine.
On Sunday, demonstrations were held across Canada in solidarity with the push to appeal the verdict. The crown prosecutor will decide within thirty days whether or not there are grounds for an appeal.