Gerald Stanley took the stand in his own defence this afternoon, saying he did not intend to fire the shot that killed Colten Boushie and believed the handgun was unloaded.
The 56-year-old rancher and part-time mechanic pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge in connection with the shooting death of 22-year-old Boushie, which occurred in Stanley's farmyard Aug. 9, 2016. Stanley's trial, which has attracted considerable public and media attention, began on Jan. 29 in Battleford.
This afternoon Stanley took the stand himself and told the jury the shot that killed Boushie was due to a rare type of misfire known as a hang-fire. Much of the trial, including the evidence of two firearms experts, examined the phenomenon of hang-fires, which occur when defective ammunition creates a delay between the trigger pull and the round discharging.
Wearing a striped, button-down shirt and black pants, Stanley stood in the witness box as most of those in attendance heard him speak at length for the first time. He spoke in a calm, measured voice throughout his testimony, at times putting on reading glasses to refer to diagrams and photos of the crime scene.
When the Ford Escape carrying Boushie and several friends arrived on his property in the early afternoon with a flat tire and dragging muffler, Stanley said he assumed nothing was amiss. He regularly works on vehicles for friends and neighbours, Stanley said, and occasionally helps strangers with mechanical trouble as well. His first thought, he said, was that the owner of a vehicle had stopped by to drop off a part or retrieve belongings.
Stanley said he and his son Sheldon paid the grey SUV little mind at first, but they realized something was wrong when an occupant of the Escape, who he was later able to identify as Eric Meechance, got out and started his quad. He and Sheldon, 28, who were working on a nearby fence that afternoon, quickly moved toward the strange vehicle, Stanley said.
"Sheldon's hollering at this person to get off the quad," Stanley said. "It looked like someone was trying to get the quad into gear and take off."
The driver of the SUV reversed toward him as he approached, Stanley said, revving the engine high and kicking up gravel. He said he kicked the SUV's taillight and his son Sheldon struck the windshield with a hammer as the vehicle accelerated forward again. The SUV made a hard turn and collided with another of the Stanley family's parked vehicles, he said, so he went into the shop and retrieved one of his two pistols.
The accused killer said he regularly used the Russian-made Tokarev pistol to scare away coyotes and other wildlife during calving season, because "it's super loud." In his shop, Stanley said he grabbed the pistol and loaded the magazine with what he believed were only two cartridges from his supply of military surplus ammunition.
Stanley told the jury he intended to "make some noise, and hopefully they'll run out of the yard." He said he fired two warning shots as he walked from his shop back toward the SUV, though he pulled the trigger three times.
"I just raised the gun in the air and fired," Stanley said. "I wanted them to really run."
When he lowered the pistol, Stanley said he saw the slide locked backwards, indicating the pistol and its magazine were empty. Standing in the witness box, Stanley demonstrated his unloading procedure using the very pistol seized from his home after the shooting (after a deputy sheriff ensured it was empty).
"I brought the gun down and the barrel was sticking out the end," he said. "As far as I was concerned it was empty."
After firing the warning shots, Stanley said he saw Meechance and another male fleeing on foot, but he could no longer see his wife, who had been mowing the lawn nearby, or his son. Sheldon, who testified earlier in the trial, said he had run inside the family house intending to grab his car keys and give chase. Gerald Stanley said he saw the empty lawnmower, where his wife was sitting moments before, still running, about 10 feet away from the SUV and felt "pure terror."
"I thought the car had ran over my wife," he said. "I'm thinking of when you turn the news on and people use their vehicles to crash into crowds."
Stanley said he ran as hard as he could to the front of the SUV. When he knelt down to check underneath, Stanley said the driver revved the engine, leading him to approach the window and try to take the keys out of the SUV's ignition. Although he could see an object he described as a "metal bar" in the driver's compartment, Stanley said he was not aware he was looking at a damaged .22-calibre rifle.
"I was reaching in and across the steering wheel to turn the key off and boom - the thing just went off," Stanley said. "I didn't pull the trigger."
Stanley told the jury his finger was not on the trigger when the fatal round discharged, and he had no intention to use the pistol for anything more than a noisemaker. He did not point the weapon at anyone that day, Stanley testified, and did not threaten anyone with it.
"I just wanted them to leave," he said.
On cross-examination, Crown prosecutor William Burge questioned Stanley's presumption that his wife had been struck by the SUV. Stanley testified that he did not run toward the vehicle, Burge noted, but walked at a "brisk" pace.
Responding to questions from Burge, Stanley said he had no reason to believe there were any weapons inside the Ford Escape. When asked whether any occupants of the vehicle had threatened him, Stanley said he believed the driver had attempted to strike his son. Burge also pressed Stanley about the safety training he received in order to acquire a restricted firearm license, asking if he learned "not to point a gun at somebody?"
Stanley said he took the course and learned the safety procedure, but wasn't pointing the weapon in a safe direction because he believed it was not loaded.
"In my mind it was empty," Stanley said. "When it's empty, it's just a piece of metal."
Closing arguments in the case are expected to be heard later this week.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been closed to commenting because the matter is still before the court.
On Twitter: @TaylorMacP
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