'Anatomy of a hang-fire': Gun expert cross-examined at Stanley Trial

By Taylor MacPherson
February 2, 2018 - 12:29pm Updated: February 3, 2018 - 11:48am

The defence pressed an expert witness on a rare type of firearm misfire this morning at the murder trial of Gerald Stanley.

Stanley, 56, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the 2016 shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie. Stanley allegedly shot Boushie once in the head using a Russian-made Tokarev TT-33 pistol. During previous testimony, Stanley's son Sheldon said his father told him the gun "just went off" immediately after the shooting.

This morning defence lawyer Scott Spencer cross-examined RCMP Forensic Firearms Specialist Greg Williams, questioning him in detail about "the anatomy of a hang-fire." Yesterday, Williams told the jury a hang-fire is a firing delay caused by faulty or degraded ammunition, resulting in "a noticeable delay from 'click' until 'bang,'"

One of the three recently-fired cartridge casings recovered at the scene and matched to the Tokarev pistol contained an "unusual bulge," Williams said, which may have been caused by a hang-fire if someone manipulated the pistol's action after pulling the trigger. According to RCMP testimony, the casing with the bulge was found inside the SUV which was carrying Boushie and a group of friends, while the other two were found elsewhere in Stanley's farmyard.

The casings seized from the crime scene were from surplus, Czech-made rounds manufactured in 1953, Williams noted. Williams fired several of Stanley's rounds through the Tokarev pistol in testing, he said, and one — which he referred to as a "dud" — failed to fire. The casing of another round broke after firing, he said, causing the handgun to jam.

Williams said hang-fires are extremely rare. As a firearms expert who has fired thousands of rounds, the witness said he never experienced the phenomenon. When they do occur, Williams said, the delay between the trigger pull and firing is typically very brief.

"My estimate would be half a second at the most," he said.

There are numerous anecdotal accounts of hang-fires lasting several seconds, Spencer noted, though Williams said hang-fires are the subject of widespread myths, and the scientific research found hang-fires lasted about a quarter-second.

"The longest example I read about was 280 milliseconds' delay," Williams said.

Spencer also questioned why Williams did not test the gunpowder in the "dud" he attempted to fire, or the powder in the other ammunition seized from Stanley's property.

"Wouldn't that help you, to know what kind of powder was in the actual cartridge?," Spencer asked. "What if you pulled it and you found the gunpowder in that comparable cartridge was severely degraded?"

"No, I don't believe it would," Williams replied. "That really wouldn't inform the rest of the analysis that I did in this case."

Spencer questioned Williams about other possible causes for the unusual deformity in the shell casing. Williams said it could potentially have been caused by a mechanical malfunction in the pistol or if the pistol had an oversized barrel installed. An obstruction in the pistol's barrel or slide could also have been the cause, Williams said, though he noted there was no evidence directly supporting any of the theories.

Ultimately, Williams said, he could not determine the exact cause of the bulge, other than to say it indicated something unusual occurred when the round was fired.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been closed to commenting because the matter is still before the court. This story was updated at 11:47 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 to correct a typo.

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