Monday, 19 February 2018


Back in that late 1960s and earlier 1970s, I studied criminal law for two years and forensic sciences for one year in the University of Toronto.  I represented clients in criminal courts beginning in 1964 and I solved several crimes as an investigator using what I learned when I was studying forensic sciences. This doesn’t make me an expert in these two professions but it makes it easier for me to write articles like this one I have just written for you.  

When the late President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, one of the bullets fired at him from behind his car; appeared to be a magic bullet for it was alleged to have shifted from one direction to another direction in mid-air or at least that was the theory that was believed by many people at that time in history.

Now we have another mysterious magic bullet to ponder about only it wasn’t about the bullet shifting its direction in mid-air. It was about the bullet that was shot out of the barrel of the gun seconds after the trigger was allegedly pulled. Can that really happen? Apparently it can but it is a very rare occurrence.

I remember when I was in the navy in my late teens during the mid-1950s and being trained on how to load a 4-inch gun.  We were told that on rare occasions, when the trigger is pulled and the trigger pin hits the back-end of the shell, it doesn’t always fire. The custom in the navy then was whoever pushed the shell into the gun’s breach, had to pull out the unfired shell and carry it to the side of the ship and dump it overboard. We all had visions of it exploding while it was in our arms as we would be carrying it to the side of the ship.

When I was 13 and was working on a farm, it was my turn to light the fuse of a stick of dynamite and then walk away to the shelter of a large rock. We waited and waited and nothing happen. The custom in those days was that whoever lit the fuse had to go to the fuse and pull it out of the stick of dynamite. Because I was only a kid, one of the men pulled the fuse out of the stick of dynamite. Apparently, the fuse was defective and stopped burning. It could have gone off just as the man was about to pull the fuse from the dynamite.

It is obvious that in both of the two scenarios I have just described to you—there was a delay that was inadvertently caused by the flammable sparks that didn’t reach their destinations on the specified times. This is referred to as a hang fire. I presume that the term refers to the ignition of fuses and shells and bullets before they eventually set off the explosions that invariably follows.  I will deal with the issue of hang fires later in this article.

Now I will give you my own theory as to what I really believed happened that fateful day when 56-year-old Gerald Stanley shot 22-year-old Coultin Bouchie to death.

After a verbal confrontation with an SUV filled with Native Indian trespassers on his Saskatchewan farm who intended to steal one of his vehicles, Stanley testified that he then retrieved his Russian-made Tokarev semi-automatic handgun from a shed, loaded it with three cartridges and then stepped outside to fire the bullets into the air to scare the criminals away.  He said he pulled the trigger three or four times. 

If he loaded the gun with only three cartridges, why did he then pull the trigger four times when he fired the gun into the air? If so, then that would mean that there were no bullets left in the cartridge when he approached the car that Bouchie was in. This doesn’t make any sense at all since Bouchie was then shot when Stanley was standing right next to the car. Where did that bullet come from if it wasn`t in the barrel of the gun or in the cartridge that holds unfired bullets?

His lawyer’s argument was that while two bullets were shot into the air above him, the third bullet did not immediately fire. Instead, after Stanley had approached the stationary SUV containing Boushie, the round suddenly discharged, striking Boushie in the head which was the shot that killed him instantly.  “Boom, the thing just went off,” Stanley told the court.

Now you need to think about this. If there was a bullet already in the barrel of the gun when Stanley went into the shed to retrieve his gun and he then placed three bullets in the cartridge that would mean that four bullets were actually fired from that gun.

When he fired three shots into the air, the bullet in the barrel would have been shot out of the barrel first. That would leave the three remaining bullets left still in the gun’s cartridge unfired at that precise moment. When the bullet that was already in the barrel was fired, the next bullet that was in the cartridge holder then automatically slipped into the barrel. That is why the gun is a semi-automatic weapon.   

Stanley pulled the trigger a second time and that second bullet left the barrel and the third bullet then slipped into the barrel ready to be fired as soon as he pulled the trigger again.  When the third bullet left the barrel, it left one remaining bullet in the barrel that was still unfired. That was the bullet that was soon after shot into Bouchie’s head either deliberately or accidentally. It was his lawyer’s position that the gun was fired accidentally and the jury and I also both accept that theory.

The issue of course was; why was that particular bullet fired in the first place. There are only two possible reasons.

The first one is that while he tried to pull the ignition key out of the SUV while the criminals were attempting to escape, he had his gun in one hand when he deliberately tried to shoot the driver and the bullet instead struck Biuchie. Of course, we have no way of determining that he deliberately pulled the trigger to kill or wound the driver.

I believe that what really happened was that when Stanley reached into the car to grab the key from the ignition with one hand, his gun was in his other hand while he was attempting to push the driver out of the way and the gun accidentally fired and killed Bouchie.

If I am right, then the charge against him should have been manslaughter because if he did what I suspect he did, his actions would have been extremely careless which under those circumstances would have amounted to an act of manslaughter. If he was charged with manslaughter, he would have been convicted. As it turned out, the prosecutor foolishly charged Stanley with second degree murder in which he obviously wasn’t guilty of such a charge and the jury arrived at the same conclusion as I have.

I can appreciate why so many people are upset with the jury because of the jury’s verdict but their verdict was the correct one considering the fact that Stanley was charged with the wrong crime.

They should be angry at Stanley for having the gun in his same hand when he was trying to push the driver away from the ignition key while his other hand was reaching for the ignition key. They should also be angry at the prosecutor for not charging Stanley with the proper charge of manslaughter, Of course, they are also angry at the prosecutor and the defence lawyer because the Indians from the Reservation were excluded from sitting on the jury for no justifiable reason. I dealt with that matter in the previous article that I wrote about this shooting of Boushie.

And now, I will deal with the issue of the defence of hang fire.

A hang fire event is when the trigger is pulled and the bullet isn’t immediately fired out of the gun’s barrel. Is that what really happened when the bullet in Stanley’s semi-automatic handgun fired and the bullet struck Coltin Bouchie’s head and instantly killed him? 

For Gerald Stanley’s strange version of events to make sense, two improbable things had to occur simultaneously.

First, no firearms expert has been able to fully explain or even repeat this hang fire “freak accident” that Gerald Stanley claims caused his gun to fire a bullet unexpectedly into the head of Colten Boushie.

The result is what David Tanovich, the co-editor of Canadian Bar Review, said was a case of a “magical gun.”  It was not the gun that was magical since it did its’ job. It was the bullet that appeared to be magical since it supposedly didn’t fire immediately after the trigger was pulled by Stanley when he supposedly fired his bullets into the air.

Hang fire is the reason why the mandatory Canadian Firearms Safety Course instructs shooters to always wait 60 seconds after encountering a misfired round. Even among habitual shooters, although, hang fires are a phenomenon that will typically only occur once or twice in a lifetime of constant firing of guns, if at all. Additionally, the typical hang fire episode only lasts a split second. There is simply no way in which gunpowder will slowly burn in such a confined apace of a shell.

Eric Hung, founder of the U.S. firearms blog Pew Pew Tactical, told the National Post newspaper that he was recently attending an advanced National Rifle Association course when the instructor asked attendees whether they had ever experienced a hang fire. He said, “Only two out of the dozen or so present raised their hands. And these are people that shoot a lot,”

Wayne Bush, a veteran U.S. firearms instructor in southern Pennsylvania, similarly told the National  Post that throughout a long police and military career that has included shooting tens of thousands of rounds (and being present around the firing of tens of thousands more), he has never experienced a hang fire.

On, a searchable database of thousands of Canadian legal decisions, there is only one mention of the term hang fire. Contained in a 1989 negligence case against the Remington Arms Company, it involved a .22 cartridge that exploded roughly ten seconds after being fired.

When Stanley’s lawyer was calling up witnesses to prove the existence of long-delayed hang fires, the defence team relied heavily on the testimony of a citizen who approached them with a hunting story.

The citizen, Wayne Popowich called up Stanley’s legal team after reading about the trial in the media, and was soon placed on the stand to describe an event from 40 years ago in which he fired an unmaintained rifle and had it behave exactly the same as the Tokarev in Stanley’s testimony.

However, a clear point in Stanley’s favour is that he was using ammunition that was particularly prone to hang fires. The Tokarev was loaded with 64-year-old cartridges originally manufactured in communist Czechoslovakia and had been later stored in an uninsulated shed subject to the extremes of the Saskatchewan climate.

Tom Givens, co-founder of Tennessee’s Rangemaster Firearms Training Services, told the National Post. “Hangfires are most common among old military surplus ammunition such as that used in this case,”

Nevertheless, even with a hang fire, one more unlikely event needed to occur to ensure Stanley’s version of events.

Before approaching the vehicle containing Boushie, Stanley testified that the slide on the Tokarev was pushed back, indicating that the gun was out of ammunition.

Under normal conditions, the slide of a Tokarev will definitely  snap back into a locked position once the gun is out of ammunition. The video by YouTuber Hickok45 illustrated that after a shooter has fired all nine rounds of a magazine, the Tokarev snaps open as a signal to the shooter to reload the gun’s magazine.

However, the slide cannot snap open if the last round fired was malfunctioning, as Stanley’s testimony claims it was.

The slide needs the recoil of a fired round to snap into a locked position. Thus, even if he was out of ammunition, the only way the slide of the Tokarev could have been in a locked position would be if Stanley had done it manually.

Here’s the important thing to remember.  Doing that should have safely cleared the gun’s barrel of the misfired round. In other words, it would have popped out of the chamber at the back of the barrel.

A properly functioning Tokarev would have ejected the malfunctioning round when Stanley pulled back the slide. Then, when the round suddenly discharged, it would have done so relatively harmlessly on its way to the ground or on the ground, instead of into Boushie’s head. 

This then means that if Stanley’s account of the shooting event is credible, his gun loaded with malfunctioning ammunition also had to be malfunctioning itself. The Tokarev would have needed to have a faulty extractor that failed to expel the cartridge, allowing the round to sit unnoticed in the gun’s chamber.

Notably, this would have needed to happen just once, as tests conducted after the shooting found the hand gun Stanley used  had to be in perfect working order when he fired it. So the problem wasn’t with the gun. That leaves us with the problem being that specific bullet. However, since the last bullet was extracted when it was fired, it couldn’t have been the one that killed Bouchie.

John Ervin, an RCMP, (Federal Police in Canada) Chief Firearms Officer called by the defence testified, “I simply don’t know what caused that firearm to discharge.”

Greg Williams, an RCMP firearm specialist called by the Crown, was similarly baffled, offering at one point that the strange series of events described were caused by an “obstruction” in the barrel, even though no obstruction was later found. 

While there is no physical evidence for Stanley’s ammunition experiencing a hangfire, the casing from the bullet that killed Boushie was found to have an unusual bulge when it was located by RCMP investigators.

During the trial, Ervin offered the explanation that the round could have discharged “out-of-battery,” a firearms term for when a cartridge detonates in the wrong place within a gun.

When a cartridge goes off “out-of-battery,” it’s simply exploding, rather than undergoing a controlled discharge within a chamber.

An “out-of-battery” firing would be consistent with Stanley’s testimony, but even then, it’s still not a given that the cartridge would have been able to propel a bullet down the gun barrel with enough velocity to kill Boushie.

If a cartridge is floating freely in a gun’s chamber and isn’t braced against anything, it could just as easily expel its explosive force out the rear of the gun, leaving a bullet harmless rattling around inside the gun.

Ron Flowers, with the Pennsylvania-based Citizens Defense Training, told the National Post that when bullets discharge in irregular circumstances, they often become far less lethal. He added, “I’ve ejected live rounds out of a gun and let them fall to the ground and they’ve hit a rock and gone ‘bang’. It scared the snot out of me, but it didn’t do anything else.”

Quite frankly, I find it hard to believe that dropping a shell filled with gunpowder would automatically explode if it hit a hard object. For the gunpowder to explode, it needs heat.

David Dyson, a firearms consultant based in the U.K., raised similar questions. “If a round was somehow in the chamber when the slide was ‘back’, then there would be no support. If that is correct, then it would be (fired) with much reduced energy. ” That is why gun barrels have been rifled for decades.

In a widely shared summary of the trial, Saskatchewan lawyer Rob Feist pointed out the “hard to believe” logic of Gerald Stanley fetching a gun to protect itself, only to immediately fire all of its ammunition into the air rendering the “firearm empty and useless for self-defence.”

He also called it an “extreme stretch” that the hang fired round exploded at the “precise second his Tokarev was aimed at close range at Colten Boushie’s skull.”

Alan Voth is a retired RCMP gunshot-residue expert who lives in the Edmonton area and works as an expert witness. He said the events Stanley described “could happen,” but he offered an alternative theory.

When Stanley fired his gun into the air, it could have ignited the round’s primer without immediately igniting the gunpowder. The force of the primer would have been just enough to kick the bullet out of its casing and lodge it in the gun’s barrel. Then, when the round detonated due to a hangfire, the explosion would have blown the lodged bullet outwards.

Voth’s theory notably only requires the malfunction of the ammunition, rather than the simultaneous malfunction of the firearm as well. It also carries the added feature that the primer explosion could have jostled the slide, making it appear to Stanley that his gun was empty.

No matter how the gun was fired, it was in Stanley’s hand when he was trying to push the driver of the SUV away from the ignition key when the gun fired and that was definitely a careless move on his part which would have justified the arresting police officer and the prosecutor to charge him with manslaughter.

Instead, those two fools chose to charge Stanley with second degree murder. That charge is only applied when the person charged was committing a criminal act when the shot was fired at the victim.

Stanley was not committing a criminal act just before he accidentally shot Bouchie. He was trying to prevent criminals who had attempted to steal one of his vehicles from leaving the scene of their crime so that he could make a citizen’s arrest and hold them until the police arrived.

Alas, the shooting of the gun that killed Bouchie was the direct result of a stupid move on Stanley’s part which would have justified a charge of manslaughter being laid against him. If that was the charge he was facing, there is no doubt in my mind that his jury would have found him guilty of that charge.

  I would be amiss in this article if I didn’t mention that the outrage felt by native Indians had less to do with the merits of the verdict than a jury without an Indigenous member sitting on the jury. I dealt with this issue in the first article I wrote about this case.

Incidentally, Stanley has been charged with failing to properly store his guns. He stored them in his shed without them being locked in a steel cabinet. Further, ammunition must be stored separately from the guns. The charges are tied to seven of the ten firearms found by the RCMP during a search of the Stanley farmhouse and shed two days after Boushie was shot. The RCMP found both the Tokarev and a Ruger Blackhawk revolver inside a black case in a farmhouse closet. As per the law, his guns would have been seized by the police. The penalty is a non-jail sentence which is anything from a discharge to a suspended sentence or a fine. The court can also order that the guns and ammunition be destroyed. Improperly stored guns have been stolen by criminals and used in murders and robberies. 

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