Khill trial hears from police at shooting scene
Indigenous leaders paying close attention to trial for white man charged with murder of Ohsweken man
HAMILTON — The trial of a white homeowner charged with killing an Indigenous man as his truck was allegedly being stolen from his driveway got underway Tuesday under the close watch of First Nations leaders in Ontario.
The case has some similarities to the racially fraught trial and acquittal of a white Saskatchewan farmer accused of murdering an Indigenous man.
In his opening statement, Crown lawyer James Nadel told jurors that the white accused, Peter Khill, shot dead Jon Styres, 29, in the early hours of Feb. 4, 2016.
The shooting took place in front of Khill’s home in the community of Glanbrook outside Hamilton as Styres, of Ohsweken, Ont., on the Six Nations Reserve, allegedly tried to steal the accused’s 15-year-old pickup from the driveway, court heard.
“(This was) a killing that never should have happened,” Nadel told the trial, noting that the muzzle of Khill’s shotgun was less than four metres from Styres’ chest.
In brief opening comments, defence lawyer Jeffrey Manishen admitted his client, who has pleaded not guilty, killed Styres.
“He did, in fact, shoot John Styres twice with a shotgun,” Manishen told the five women and seven men on the jury. “(Styres) died of those injuries.”
Khill, then a 26-year-old mechanical technician and licensed millwright, had served as a reservist with a Brantford artillery regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces. He has been on bail since shortly after his arrest and, dressed in a suit and tie, quietly watched proceedings from his lawyers’ table.
The case has shades of the emotionally charged trial and acquittal by an all-white jury of white Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, who was accused of murdering an Indigenous youth, Colten Boushie, in August 2016. Stanley testified he shot Boushie in the back of the head accidentally.
The Boushie case, which led to protests against a justice system Indigenous people argued was racist, even prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say Canada has to “do better.”
In a statement on Monday, Six Nations Chief Ava Hill said Styres’ death has had a “significant impact” on the community and the trial would be closely watched.
“Indigenous people will not feel safe until there is a justice system in place that values Indigenous lives,” Hill said. “Each failure of the justice system ... represents how 150 years of colonization continue to translate into racism, injustice and tragedy for Indigenous peoples.”
Jurors at the Khill trial, being heard before Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero, were all asked whether they could be impartial given the races of the accused and victim.
The first witness, Hamilton Const. Jeffery Hahn, testified Tuesday that he responded to a shooting call at a home, which he said was in near total darkness with the exception of a bright front porch light.
A female figure was on the porch, he said.
“Where is the gun?” Hahn said he yelled at her. A male voice by the pickup truck in the driveway responded it was in the house.
A man was pacing back and forth, Hahn said. Despite the season, he had no pants on — just his shorts, the officer testified.
“I said to him: ‘Where’s the guy?’ He pointed and said, ‘Over here. He’s not breathing.’”
Hahn said he saw a person lying on his back next to the truck, knelt in the muck, and began doing chest compressions.
“I could hear the sound of air escaping from his chest,” Hahn told the court.
Hahn cut away the victim’s clothing to discover “quite a large hole” in the man’s upper left chest. Paramedics soon responded and pronounced the victim dead.
The officer also testified that the passenger door of the GMC pickup — the lock had been “punched” to facilitate entry — was open, and the side of the steering column was damaged. Power to the dash and radio was on but no keys were in the ignition. Next to the door, some loose change, a screwdriver and a glove were lying in the mud, Hahn said.
Const. Matthew Robinson later testified about responding to the call from a woman that her boyfriend had shot someone on the driveway, and arrested Khill at the scene.
“I even tried to save him,” Robinson said Khill told him.