Accidental, reckless or intentional: Jury awaits final instruction before verdict

By Taylor MacPherson
February 8, 2018 - 1:41pm

The murder trial of Gerald Stanley, 56, has concluded and it's now up to a jury to determine if the shooting death of Colten Boushie, 22, was a deliberate act or a tragic accident according to two opposing theories.

Defence lawyer Scott Spencer and Crown prosecutor William Burge presented their closing statements to the jury today, Feb. 8.  

Stanley has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the 2016 shooting of Boushie. His high-profile trial began Jan. 29 in Battleford.

Death was accidental: Defence

During his testimony Monday, Stanley said he retrieved his Tokarev TT-33 pistol from his shop after realizing the occupants of the grey Ford Escape, which had just driven onto his farmyard, were attempting to steal his vehicles. The driver of the SUV came close to hitting his son Sheldon before crashing into a parked vehicle nearby, Stanley testified, so he loaded the pistol’s magazine with what he believed were just two cartridges and fired warning shots.

After firing twice into the air, Stanley said he pulled the trigger at least once more and no round discharged. He saw the pistol’s slide locked to the rear indicating it was empty, he testified, and removed the magazine. 

At this point, Stanley testified, he could no longer see his wife Leesa, who had been mowing the lawn nearby. Seeing the empty lawnmower still revving and believing his wife may have been struck by the Ford Escape, Stanley said he ran over to the SUV and was attempting to remove the keys when the pistol discharged a third time without him pulling the trigger. The third shot struck Boushie in the head while he was seated in the driver’s seat, killing him.

Much of the evidence heard at the trial, including testimony from multiple firearms experts, centred around the phenomenon of hang-fires, which occur when defective ammunition causes a delay between a firearm’s trigger being pulled and the round firing.

Spencer said his client was justified in retrieving his pistol and firing the warning shots. From Stanley’s perspective, Spencer said, the driver of the grey Ford Escape had nearly run over his son Sheldon and then deliberately collided with a parked vehicle. Although Stanley may not have taken all the proper steps to ensure the pistol was empty, Spencer said the steps he did take were appropriate, given the circumstances.

“Gerry was in a nightmare situation and he didn’t have any intention of hurting anyone,” Spencer told the jury. “If you were in Gerry’s boots, would you reasonably be expected to do anything significantly different?”

Stanley, Spencer said, was concerned for his family’s safety at the time of the shooting, and described his response as “reasonable” and “measured.”

“The weapon he was concerned about was the grey Escape,” Spencer said. “It’s not criminal. It’s a tragedy, but it’s not criminal. You must acquit.”

Stanley was honest when he testified in his own defence earlier this week, Spencer said. It would have been in the accused killer’s best interest to claim the shooting was done in self-defence, he noted, but Stanley told the jury he did not realize the damaged .22-calibre rifle inside the SUV was a weapon.

“It would have been so easy, so easy to say, ‘That barrel was pointed at me and I shot him,’” Spencer said. “He can’t testify to that, because that’s not what happened.”

Stanley intended to shoot or was reckless: Crown

Burge, however, told the jury Stanley “told a bit of a story” on the witness stand.

“He did not, in my submission, tell you the truth,” Burge said. 

Sheldon’s evidence indicated Gerald Stanley did not check under the SUV to see if his wife had been struck, Burge noted, and another witness — Eric Meechance — said he saw the ride-on lawnmower on the opposite side of the house moments before the fatal shot was fired. Although the RCMP found the lawnmower very close to the front of the Escape, Burge said it could easily have been moved after the shooting.

Even if the jury does not find Stanley deliberately caused Boushie’s death, Burge said they could still find him guilty of manslaughter if they conclude he was negligent in his handling of the pistol. Burge said Stanley did not adequately ensure the weapon was safe before approaching the SUV, where a physical confrontation was likely to occur.

Stanley, Burge added, did not know how many rounds he loaded into the magazine or exactly how many times he pulled the trigger. The accused was also unaware of the safety features of his own weapon, Burge noted.

“Gerald Stanley took no precautions and was exceedingly reckless,” he said. “We know the gun wasn’t empty because there was another bullet that took the life of Colten Boushie.”

Following the closing arguments, court was adjourned until this afternoon. When the matter resumes at 2:15 p.m. this afternoon, the jury will receive their final instructions from Chief Justice Martel Popescul before retiring to consider their verdict.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been closed to commenting because the matter is still before the court.

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