Stanley says he thought gun was disarmed when Boushie shot
Gerald Stanley testified Monday he thought his gun was empty when a bullet fired from the pistol, killing 22-year-old Colten Boushie.
“As far as I was concerned, it was empty,” the Biggar-area farmer told Battleford’s Court of Queen’s Bench when he took the stand in his own defence on the first day of his trial’s second week.
The 56-year-old, who’s pleaded not guilty, is charged with second-degree murder in the Aug. 9, 2016, death of Boushie. He’s accused of fatally shooting the Red Pheasant First Nation man after Boushie and four others drove onto Stanley’s farm in an SUV.
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 Stanley’s defence lawyer, Scott Spencer, argued Monday the five intended to steal from the property.
“This created a high-intensity, fear-filled situation. That’s what Gerry faced. That’s what he had to deal with,” Spencer said.
Stanley told court he took the clip out of his Tokarev handgun after firing two or three warning shots straight into the air. He recalled the gun fired the first two times he pulled the trigger, but said he doesn’t think the gun fired with the third trigger pull.
He thought the gun was disarmed when Boushie was shot. The gun fired when he was reaching his left arm across the SUV’s steering wheel to turn off the ignition, he said.
“It just went off," Stanley said.
His right hand was holding the gun and went into the vehicle. His finger wasn’t on the trigger, he claimed.
“I couldn’t believe what just happened. Everything just went silent,” he testified.
‘I was in pure terror’
Court heard last week one of the people with Boushie jumped onto an all-terrain vehicle while on the Stanley farm.
Stanley’s son, Sheldon, testified he and his father ran toward the SUV after hearing someone start the quad. Sheldon, who was carrying a tool belt, used a hammer to smash the vehicle’s windshield when it was trying to drive away. Stanley kicked the taillight.
Stanley told court he thought the vehicle was leaving after the altercation, until the SUV took a sharp turn and hit his wife’s vehicle.
He grabbed the Tokarev handgun from his shop with the intent to scare the group away, he said.
Two men ran from the scene after Stanley fired what he claims were the warning shots, but he testified he was still scared approaching the vehicle. He couldn’t see his wife and was worried she’d been hit by the SUV.
“I was in pure terror. I thought they had run over my wife,” he said.
He told court the SUV revved when he ran to the vehicle to check to see if his was wife was underneath, and that he thought he was going to get run over.
He saw his wife and son standing in the yard —both unharmed — after the shooting, he said.
Crown witness Belinda Jackson, who testified last week, said she and another woman were in the SUV’s back seat when Boushie was shot. She told court she heard a man say, “Go get a gun,” prior to the shooting,but Stanley said neither he, nor his son, discussed grabbing guns.
Jackson also said she saw a younger man go inside the house while an older man, who she later identified as Stanley, walked into a garage and grabbed a handgun before shots were fired.
“He came around the car to the passenger side and he shot Colten in the head,” Jackson testified.
The younger man came outside of the house holding a long gun, according to Jackson.
Sheldon told court he ran into his family’s home to grab truck keys.
He said he heard one gunshot just before entering the home, one while inside the house and a third after exiting the home. He saw the SUV’s driver-side door open and his father walking beside the vehicle before he heard the third shot, he said. His dad was standing close to the SUV, holding a handgun and a clip, after the shot. Stanley appeared as if he’d be sick, his son said.
“I don’t know what happened. It just went off. I just wanted to scare them,” Stanley said, according to his son.
Stanley was asked Monday to demonstrate how he was handling the gun by using the Tokarev in court.
Members of Boushie's family said watching him hold the gun was difficult.
"I've never seen anyone else given the gun to handle so freely in court," Boushie's aunt Linda Whitstone said. "It was just uncomfortable for a lot of us family members. We had to leave the room."
Defence blames hang firing
Boushie was shot once. The fatal shot entered behind Boushie’s left ear and exited through the side of his neck.
Stanley’s defence lawyer, Spencer, said during his opening statements Monday the shooting was a “freak accident that ended in tragedy.”
The death was not solely a case of self-defence, he argued. A rifle, which court heard was missing its stock, was between Boushie’s legs in the SUV at the time of the shooting, but Stanley did not see the gun, according to Spencer. The fatal shot was the result of what Spencer believes was a hang fire, a delay between when the trigger is pulled and when the bullet fires.
“Hang fires happen, and that’s what happened here,” Spencer said.
Three spent gun casing found at the scene — two located outside the SUV and one found on the vehicle’s dash — matched to the Tokarev handgun seized from the Stanley home. One of the casings, the one found in the vehicle, showed what forensic firearms expert Greg Williams described as an “unusual bulge.”
Williams, a witness for the Crown, told court last week a hang fire alone wouldn’t cause the bulge and also said the longest hang fire he knows about is .28 seconds, but on Monday, Spencer called two witnesses to the stand to dispute Williams’ claims.
One witness, Nathan Voinorosky, told court he once experienced a seven-second hang fire while target shooting, and the other, Wayne Popowich, said he’s experienced delays between seven and 12 seconds.
Popowich, a man who doesn’t know Stanley but contacted Spencer after seeing media coverage of the trial, told court he also once experienced a hang fire that created a bulge. However, he noted during cross-examination, that specific incident happened 40 years ago.
He said he wasn’t sure if an issue with the gun or the ammunition caused the delayed firing and bulge.
The Tokarev gun seized from the Stanley farm was tested by Williams and one other expert, John Ervin. Both experts testified last week the handgun fired fine when tested, but Williams noted one cartridge tested failed to fire.
Williams tested 36 cartridges from 80 that were seized from the Stanley farm. The ammunition tested was Czechoslovakian army surplus ammunition from 1953, and Williams told court misfires with older ammunition like the ones he tested are not uncommon.
Ervin said he couldn’t say if a hang fire occurred or not.
Crown questions gun handling
Crown prosecutor Bill Burge opened his cross-examination of Gerald Stanley by asking the farmer how many guns were in his home.
Police seized 11 guns — including two pellet guns — from the property, and Stanley told Burge, while he wasn’t sure how many he had, he knows five worked.
Stanley said he’s taken courses and read manuals to have restricted guns, which prompted Burge to question Stanley’s knowledge of gun handling.
“Did you learn not to point a gun at somebody?” Burge asked.
“Yes,” Stanley replied.
“Did you learn that if you pull a trigger that doesn’t go off you better treat this gun as something dangerous that might go off?” Burge followed up, to which Stanley replied he’s known for about 20 years.
Burge also asked Stanley, who said during his testimony he loaded what he thought were two bullets into the Tokarev handgun’s magazine before the shooting, if he normally knows how many shells he loads into a clip. Stanley said he does on most days, and said he now knows he was mistaken when he thought he loaded two bullets.
Stanley was the final witness to take the stand in the trial.
The Crown wrapped up its case mid-Friday after about four days of evidence, while Spencer closed his case Monday after about a day and a half of defence evidence.
Closing arguments for Stanley’s trial are scheduled for Thursday morning.
--- Written by Kevin Menz, based on reporting from Angelina Irinici and Jill Macyshon