Not guilty verdict met with cries, shouts at Gerald Stanley trial
Gerald Stanley has been found not guilty in the shooting death of Colten Boushie.
A 12-person jury delivered the verdict Friday evening as a Battleford courtroom packed with members of Boushie’s family, the public and the media anxiously awaited the reading.
The seven women and five men had been deliberating since Thursday afternoon, following instruction from Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Martel Popescul, who presided over the trial. Their options, according to Popescul: that Stanley is guilty of second-degree murder, that Stanley is guilty of manslaughter or that Stanley be acquitted.
The verdict, as the lead juror announced Stanley’s acquittal, was met with shouting, crying and gasps from many in the courtoom.
Some people yelled, “Murderer!” Some appeared to be in disbelief. Others swore.
Alvin Baptiste, the uncle of Boushie, decried the “all-white jury” for the verdict.
“No justice,” he told reporters outside court.
Stanley, a 56-year-old Biggar-area farmer, was charged in the August 2016 shooting death of Boushie, a Cree man from the Red Pheasant First Nation. He was rushed out a back door by members of the RCMP after the verdict.
Court heard during the trial, which started Jan. 29, the 22-year-old Boushie was shot in the head with a handgun while he was sitting in the driver’s seat of an SUV that had been driven onto Stanley's farm near Biggar.
It’s not disputed Stanley caused the death, Popescul told the jury during his instruction. The verdict was to come down to whether or not the jury found Stanley caused the death unlawfully.
“You must decide the issue of carelessness and lawful excuse,” Popescul said.
According to his instruction, to find Stanley guilty of second-degree murder, jurors had to feel the Crown proved beyond a reasonable doubt Stanley intentionally killed Boushie. To convict him of manslaughter, the jury had to feel the Crown proved beyond a reasonable doubt Stanley used a gun in a careless manner and had no lawful excuse for his use of the weapon.
Jade Tootoosis, the cousin of Boushie, told media and members of the public outside court after the verdict the decision does not mean the family is done searching for justice.
“There was no justice served here today. We hoped for justice for Colten. However, we did not see it. We did not feel it throughout this entire process,” she said, stating the family will fight for an appeal.
“We will not stop our pursuit for justice. We will stand here and honour my late brother, my family member, my friend, Colten Boushie.”
The family’s lawyer, Chris Murphy, who was not involved in the trial, read from a prepared statement, saying he and the family will work to ensure Boushie’s death and the trial “shine a light” on systemic issues the case revealed.
“Some people believe that the colour of Colten’s skin did not play any role in either his death or what has happened since, but imagine you’re a member of Colten’s family, today, reliving the death of your son, your brother and nephew, and at the same time, truly believing that the colour of Colten’s skin contributed to the tragic events of Aug. 9, 2016, the subsequent police investigation and the proceedings that followed,” Murphy said.
“I ask you to try to feel the nearly bottomless disappointment of Colten’s cousin Jade Tootoosis, who watched quietly as visibly Indigenous people were excluded, one by one, from serving on this jury; try to feel the helplessness Jace and William, who wanted nothing but to move their brother, who was lying in the mud, as hour after hour of summer rain beat down upon his dead body; and, please, try to put yourself in the skin of Debbie Baptiste, lying on your porch, in shock, while members of the RCMP search your home and your microwave moments after they’ve told you your youngest boy has been killed.”
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice-Chief Kimberly Jonathan called for peace but still did not mince words outside court discussing systemic racism — she specifically pointed to the verdict, residential schools and the '60s Scoop.
“We felt unsafe then, and we’re still unsafe. Someone can say it’s an accident to shoot any one of us, and they’re found not guilty,” Jonathan said.
“Let’s co-exist and live peacefully. We’re all family. We’re all here. But let’s give justice to each other, and honour and respect, and have empathy for the histories, for our histories, collectively.”
No member of the Stanley family, or Stanley’s lawyer, commented to media after the verdict.
The jury re-heard testimony during the day Friday from both Stanley and his son, Sheldon, before reaching the verdict hours later.
Stanley testified Monday he thought his Tokarev handgun was disarmed when Boushie was shot. He took the magazine out of the gun after firing warning shots straight into the air, he said.
He said he couldn’t see his wife, who had been on a riding lawnmower, and thought she was under the SUV. He told court he sprinted toward the vehicle to look underneath and the vehicle revved.
"From here I ran as hard as I could to the front of the car. I went right to the front of the car. I looked down, then I was going to kneel down to look under and the car revved up. I thought the car was going to run me over,” he testified.
The gun, in his right hand, fired when he was reaching his left arm across the SUV’s steering wheel to turn off the ignition, according to Stanley. He said he was holding the gun’s magazine in his left hand and that his finger wasn’t on the trigger.
“It just went off,” he told court.
He then saw his wife and son standing near the SUV, after the shooting, he said.
Crown prosecutor Bill Burge argued in his closing statement Stanley’s and Sheldon’s testimonies didn’t match. Stanley said he ran to the SUV, while Sheldon testified he saw his father walk by the SUV.
Stanley’s lawyer, Scott Spencer, who described the shooting as a “freak accident,” said during his closing arguments the shot was a hang fire — a delay between when the trigger is pulled and when the bullet fires.
“It's a tragedy, but it's not criminal,” Spencer said. “Some people aren't going to be happy. You have to do what is right based on the evidence you heard in this courtroom. You must acquit.”
Burge disputed that Stanley believed the firearm was empty and that the gun could have had a misfire or hang fire.
“It's a very rare circumstance,” said Burge, who pointed to the evidence of gun experts. “He's told you something that is demonstrably not true because there was another round in that clip.”
Burge argued Stanley handled the firearm carelessly because he didn’t know how many bullets he loaded into the gun or how many shots he fired, and because he held a loaded gun close to three people in a vehicle in an unsafe manner. Burge also said Stanley wasn’t aware of the safety measures of his own gun, a gun he owned for four years, because he thought removing the magazine would disarm the gun — which isn’t the case.
"You can't believe what Gerald Stanley said. The only inference is that it was pulled. Was it pulled intentionally? Did it go off accidentally?" Burge said.
"In either event, ladies and gentlemen, if it was pulled intentionally, I am suggesting that's murder."
Two of the five people who were with Boushie the day of the shooting testified last week the group was looking for help with a flat tire, but both Stanley and his son told court they believed someone from the SUV was attempting to steal an all-terrain vehicle from the yard.
Both lawyers used the term “highly charged” to describe the situation.
--- Written by Kevin Menz, with files from Angelina Irinici, Janet Dirks and The Canadian Press’s Bill Graveland