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Kelowna man Pirko’s murder conviction overturned on appeal based on trial errors

Appeal court rules trial judge’s charge to the jury was ‘so confusing as to amount to error in law’

The British Columbia Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial for a Kelowna man convicted of second-degree murder for bludgeoning another man with a hammer.

Steven Pirko was convicted for the 2014 attack on Christopher Ausman after he intervened in a fight between his friend and Ausman, killing the 32-year-old by hitting him at least twice in the head with a hammer.

In a unanimous decision, a three-justice panel of B.C.’s highest court overturned Pirko’s conviction, ruling that the trial judge’s charge to the jury was “so confusing as to amount to error in law.”

In the ruling, Justice Gregory Fitch says the trial judge “misdirected” the jury on the section of the Criminal Code that allows for the lawful defence of another, and failed to help jury members understand how the offence of manslaughter could apply.

In his ruling issued Tuesday, Fitch also says the judge’s final instructions about Pirko’s criminal record were “incomplete and deficient in law.”

Since January 2020, Pirko has been serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 11 years, but the Appeal Court ruling clears the way for a new trial, with a date yet to be set.

The trial judge’s errors “were not harmless,” says Fitch, and “cannot be cured” through other legal measures.

“The cumulative effect of the errors resulted in an unsatisfactory trial,” he says in the decision.

RELATED: Pirko found guilty in the 2014 second-degree murder of Chris Ausman