A Hamilton jury has found Peter Khill not guilty of second-degree murder but guilty of manslaughter after shooting and killing Jon Styres in 2016.
After roughly 13 hours of deliberations, the 12-person jury reached the verdict on Friday afternoon.
At 5:06 p.m., Khill learned his fate.
When the verdict was read, the courtroom was tense and silent before tears fell from both Khill’s family and Styres’s family. They muffled whimpers and cries.
Khill shook his head moments after hearing the verdict. Soon after, he hugged his wife and other family members.
“If he stayed home, none of this would’ve happened,” one man from Khill’s side yelled as some of Styres’s family members walked out of the courtroom. There were numerous police officers in the room to prevent any further confrontation.
Manslaughter carries no minimum sentence, unless it’s committed with a firearm, in which case the minimum sentence is four years in prison.
Khill won’t be in custody over the weekend, but on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 10 a.m., Ontario Superior Court Justice Andrew Goodman will decide if his bail will be revoked. His sentencing will come at a later date.
Khill, 26 at the time of the shooting, pleaded not guilty, saying he was using self-defence because he thought Styres had a gun and was about to pull the trigger.
Styres, a 29-year-old Six Nations man, had a knife in his pocket and was trying to steal Khill’s truck. He didn’t have a gun.
Khill was initially acquitted in the first trial back in 2018 before being ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada to face a new trial last year.
The second trial lasted only a few days in November and ended in a mistrial.
The case had an especially high profile in 2016 because of its similarities to the 2016 shooting death in Saskatchewan of 22-year-old Cree man Colten Boushie.
Before the trial began, jurors were asked if they had any bias, beliefs or preconceived opinions about Indigenous men.
‘A bit of justice’ mixed with anguish
Lindsay Hill, Styres’s partner and mother of his two children, was teary-eyed leaving the courtroom.
“There was a little bit of justice for Jon but it’s still extremely painful they didn’t come back with second-degree murder,” she told reporters.
“It’s very disappointing he gets to go home and see his kids and spend time with his wife when me and my children don’t get that option. We have to deal with that loss for the rest of our lives.”
Jessica Hill, Styres’s first cousin, and Rhonda Johns, Styres’s aunt, echoed some of those sentiments. They both had a picture of Debbie Hill, Styres’s mother, pinned to their clothes because she was in the hospital and couldn’t attend.
“As a family, we are disappointed with the outcome,” Jessica said. “This is not the outcome we wanted but we know [Khill] has to wear this title for the rest of his life.”
Crown prosecutor Paul McDermott and assistant Crown prosecutor Sean Doherty declined to comment.
Khill’s wife, Melinda, declined to comment. Defence lawyer Jeffrey Manishen also declined to comment.
Dave Oleniuk, who is a now-retired Hamilton police case manager part of the Khill investigation, said the verdict was “a vindication of the rule of law to a degree.”
“You’re just not allowed to kill people that are committing petty thefts,” he said.
It’s unclear if there will be an appeal.
The night Styres died
The 12-person jury heard Khill testify that loud bangs outside of their rural Hamilton home woke him and Melinda at 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2016.
Khill, a former reservist, said his military training kicked in, prompting him to grab his shotgun, load it with two shells and move toward the noise.
He said he wanted to confront and detain whoever was outside to get control of the situation.
Khill said he exited his home through the back door and entered a breezeway connecting his home and garage, using military techniques to move silently.
It led him to Styres, who was within three-and-a-half metres and was leaning over the passenger seat of the truck, not sensing Khill’s presence.
Khill said when he saw Styres’s silhouette, he immediately yelled, “Hey, hands up!”
After seeing Styres’s hands comes together and move above waist height, Khill said he fired two shots, thinking Styres was armed.
Crown prosecutors argued Khill wasn’t out there to try and detain Styres but rather, he was angry and was determined to kill whoever was at his truck.
They also testified Khill shot Styres in the chest and then shot him again when Styres was on his hands and knees.
The crown called numerous witnesses, including responding officers and a firearms expert, while the defence brought in a forensic psychiatrist who could attest to how repetitive military training can stay with people for a long time and be their default response under stress.
Six Nations community will try to heal: chief
Mark Hill, chief of Six Nations Elected Council, was with Lindsay Hill for the verdict. The two of them grew up as close friends.
While Styres being Indigenous wasn’t brought up in court, Mark Hill said he hopes the case can contribute to conversations about how Indigenous people are treated in colonial processes like the courts.
“I want to continue to keep this dialogue going with Lindsay to try and figure out what are those specific challenges she has witnessed and gone through this trial that we can be further supportive of in the future,” he told CBC News before the verdict was announced.
“I don’t want to play race games but in past experiences with Indigenous peoples in the system, it’s clear at times race is still very much an issue,” he said referring to the Boushie case.
CBC Hamilton also contacted the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, the hereditary leadership in the community, for comment but didn’t hear back.
Mark Hill said the community will also need time to process the situation.
“We all need to look toward what that healing path looks like.”