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Accident or murder? A look at some court cases involving fatal shootings

Last Updated Feb 9, 2018 at 10:00 pm EDT

A Saskatchewan jury has found farmer Gerald Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie. Court heard that Boushie and his friends drove onto Stanley’s property seeking help for a flat tire, but had also tried breaking into a truck on a neighbouring farm. Stanley testified he fired some warning shots in the air before approaching the SUV. He said he reached in to grab the car keys in the ignition and the gun he was holding accidentally went off. Boushie was shot in the back of the head.

Here are a few court cases involving people charged with murder who said the shootings were accidental:

April 21, 1996: Nick Biuk, 26, was shot and killed at a backyard barbecue in Kitchener, Ont. Michael Meiler, angry that his estranged wife had a new boyfriend, had gone to the home with a gun. One man jumped on Meiler from behind in an attempt to get the gun. Meiler flew into Biuk and a struggled ensued. Biuk died from a single shot to the abdomen. Meiler testified that he did not intend to shoot Biuk and that the gun fired accidentally. A jury convicted him of Biuk’s second-degree murder and the attempted murder of his wife’s boyfriend. He was sentenced to life with no chance at parole for 12 years.

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May 6, 2000: Chester Charlie, 20, was shot and killed at a house party in Fraser Lake, B.C. Jody James Gunning admitted to the shooting but said he never intended to kill Charlie. Gunning said he found Charlie, an uninvited guest, sitting on his bed and going through a drawer in his night stand. He said Charlie refused to leave and the shotgun he took out to intimidate him accidentally went off. Charlie died from a single shot to the neck. A jury found Gunning guilty of second-degree murder, but the Supreme Court ordered a new trial. Before his second trial was to begin, Gunning pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to eight years.

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April 5, 2005: Jessica James, 34, was fatally shot in the head in a home on Penelakut Island, B.C. Her husband, Robert Taylor, testified that the shooting was accidental. He said they had been drinking and arguing about money. She told him he was wasting money on his drinking and questioned why he could buy food for their dog but not his family. He loaded a high-powered rifle intending to point it at the dog. He testified that his wife grabbed the rifle and it went off. A jury convicted him of second-degree murder, but a new trial was ordered on appeal. A judge reached the same guilty verdict in 2009.

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May 28, 2008: Janice McMath, 64, was fatally shot on a farm near Abbotsford, B.C. Her estranged husband, Robert McMath, told police he was responsible but that the shooting was an accident. Court heard the couple were separated and about to go to trial over their assets. However, they were cordial and Janice often visited Robert at the farm. They had been drinking wine outside near a barn when McMath said he picked up a rifle he used for coyotes. He said he was unloading the gun when he stumbled and it went off. Janice was shot twice and died days later in hospital. A judge acquitted McMath of second-degree murder and found him guilty of manslaughter. He received the minimum sentence for manslaughter when a firearm is involved — four years.