The mechanics of justice

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There is a vivid anger across Canada over the acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley at his second-degree murder trial in the shooting death of the young Cree man Colten Boushie. The lack of Indigenous jurors on an all-white jury has sparked an outcry for change.

Forget for a moment your outrage – or lack thereof – and look at some real facts that were neglected in the trial. The trial turned on the technical aspects of the semi-automatic Tokarev pistol that Stanley used to kill Colten – accidentally he claimed. This aspect of the trial raises serious questions about the forensic expertise of the police and prosecution in this case.

In court, Stanley told the jury he believed he had loaded two bullets in his gun. After he fired the second warning shot, he pulled the trigger several times to make sure the gun was clear, then brought the pistol down and popped the clip out, he testified. Stanley said the slide of the gun was back and the barrel was extended out, suggesting to him that the gun was empty.

Anyone familiar with semi-automatic pistols would have seen something wrong with this story. The Nation contacted Christopher Covel, a former US Air Force-trained weapons mechanic, about the discrepancies. Covel owns a Tokarev and tested various scenarios relating to Stanley’s testimony.

Stanley said he pulled the trigger several times to make sure the gun was clear. There are two problems with this testimony.

First scenario: if the slide was in place to fire then Stanley would have had to manually pull the hammer or the slide back to do a real dry fire (with no bullets in pistol). Simply pulling the trigger does nothing.

Second scenario: if the slide was already back and the barrel exposed then it is impossible to pull the trigger on a Tokarev as it then locks in place. Stanley’s testimony breaks down at this point because, with a semi-automatic, part of the kinetic force used to propel the bullet out of the pistol is imparted to the slide, according to Covel.

After a shot, the slide goes back, causing two actions. First, the empty shell casing is ejected. Secondly, a new bullet from the magazine enters the barrel. Only if there were no more bullets in the magazine would the slide stay open with the barrel exposed. If there were a bullet in the barrel then the slide would not remain open unless there was a serious malfunction, Covel noted.

During the trial, firearms expert Greg Williams testified that “something unusual happened” when Stanley’s Tokarev fired, but he found no evidence the gun was broken. Therefore, the slide would not be open unless it was done manually or Stanley was lying.

Manually ensuring the slide is open takes a specific operation. When the slide is back the breech is exposed, which would have shown that there was a bullet in the chamber. That bullet would have been ejected normally at that point.

All of this shows that Stanley’s version of the events is impossible to believe. It is almost inconceivable that police investigators, firearms experts and forensic analysts could have not understood the operation of a semi-automatic pistol. Justice for Colten, Indigenous or not, was clearly lacking at all levels of this trial.

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