HAMILTON – The wife of a man charged with second-degree murder testified Wednesday that there had been numerous break and enters and car thefts in their rural community in the months before her husband shot and killed a man who was allegedly trying to steal his truck.
Peter Khill, 30, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the shooting death of Jon Styres on Feb. 4, 2016, though he does not deny that he hit the 29-year-old from Six Nations Reserve with a pair of shotgun blasts.
Khill’s wife, Melinda Benko, told jurors she woke him up around 3 a.m. after she heard loud knocking or banging noises outside their home near Hamilton.
Her husband got his shotgun from the bedroom closet, loaded it and headed out the back door while she looked out the window, she testified.
Benko saw the silhouette of a person in the passenger seat of the truck, then a blinding light coming from the breezeway between the house and garage, followed by yelling and two loud, echoing blasts accompanied by flying sparks, she said, adding that she could not tell at first who had fired the shots.
“I was hoping Pete would shoot first if he had to,” said Benko, who is six months pregnant with the couple’s first child.
“I just freaked out and called 911.”
The Crown played the nearly 15-minute 911 call for the jury, in which Benko describes the series of events, adding that her then-boyfriend had shot a man who was trying to steal their truck.
Khill can later be heard telling the operator that he fired in self-defence, after seeing Styres in the truck raising his arms as if he had a gun.
“It looked like he was literally about to shoot me so I shot him,” Khill said over the phone. “I didn’t want to lose my life… Looking at him now it doesn’t look like (he has a gun).”
Benko testified on Wednesday that she and Khill had been “on edge” in the days leading up to the shooting. The couple moved into their house around Binbrook, Ont., about six months earlier and there had been “a lot of chatter in the community” about break and enters, car thefts and people being hurt by intruders, she said.
The week before the shooting, Benko was home alone while Khill was on a business trip and on two separate occasions she heard what she believed was someone trying to unlock the back door using the electronic keypad, Benko said.
Both times she opened the back door and found no one there, but the couple was concerned enough that Khill changed the back door’s key code once he got home.
Benko told the court she thought at first that the noise she heard on the morning of Feb. 4, 2016 could have been someone in the covered breezeway between the house and the garage, kicking through one of the windows into the basement, trying to get into the home.
A police officer who was at the scene has previously testified that Khill recounted a similar version of events after being taken into custody.
“I’m a soldier. That’s how we were trained. I came out. He raised his hands to like a gun height. It was dark. I thought I was in trouble. Does self-defence mean anything in court?” Const. Matthew Robinson said Khill told him.
Khill, a 26-year-old mechanical technician and licensed millwright at the time of the shooting, served as a reservist with a Brantford artillery regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces. He has been on bail since shortly after his arrest.
The jury heard Tuesday that police did not find a gun on or near Styres, but an officer who attended the autopsy said they found a hinged knife closed and clipped in his pocket.
Investigators also found a soldering lighter, a flashlight and a cellphone charger in and among Styers’ clothes, Det. Const. Doug Moon told the court.
A pathologist removed several shotgun shell components from Styers’ chest wall and right arm, Moon said.
Styers was wearing a T-shirt and three sweatshirts when he died, each of which had a hole in the chest and a hole in the right shoulder, he added. The Crown showed the jury a photo of the tank top Styers was wearing under his T-shirt, which appeared to be covered in blood.
The case, which has some similarities to the racially fraught trial and acquittal earlier this year of Gerald Stanley, a white Saskatchewan farmer accused of murdering Indigenous man Colten Boushie, is being closely watched by First Nations leaders.
Styres’s death has had a “significant impact” on his community, Six Nations Chief Ava Hill said in a statement earlier this week.
“Indigenous people will not feel safe until there is a justice system in place that values Indigenous lives,” she said.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the jury heard on Monday that police did not find a gun on or near Styres.