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Ginter trial decided by facts, not emotions: Crown

The justice system needs to be based on objective facts, not feelings. That’s the message from Grande Prairie’s Chief Crown Prosecutor Steven Hinkley, following the emotional trial over the 2016 death of a B.C. man in a local parking lot.

Michael Ginter was originally charged with second degree murder and possession of property obtained by crime exceeding $5,000. At the time, RCMP said 34-year-old Nikkolas Steenhuisen of Abbotsford had come out of Home Hardware to find the accused in his truck on May 14, 2016.

34 year old Nikkolas Steenhuisen was killed in an altercation in a parking lot in Grande Prairie on May 14, 2016, Facebook

When the suspect tried to drive off in another pickup, Steenhuisen was on its running board and got pinned when it hit a parked vehicle. He passed away in an air ambulance on the way to an Edmonton hospital. The suspect drove off and the vehicle he used was found burned in a rural area later that day.

After a preliminary hearing in March 2017, Ginter’s charges were changed to manslaughter, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, failing to stop at the scene of an accident involving bodily harm or death, and possession of the proceeds of crime. Hinkley says it was clear then that the Crown couldn’t prove intent.

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“The justice, after hearing the totality of the evidence, was in a position to find as a fact that it was the victim in this case who had been in control of the vehicle at the time of the accident, or at the very least had rendered the defendant unable to be in control of the vehicle.”

Ginter plead guilty to the possession charge at the beginning of his trial in Grande Prairie last week and was convicted on the charge of failing to stop. The Crown then decided to withdraw the manslaughter and dangerous driving charges.

“After hearing what Justice Ouellette would be making his findings of fact,” Hinkley explains, “the Crown was in a position where it could no longer establish it was more likely than not a conviction would ensure, so two of those counts had to be withdrawn.”

After four days of trial, Ginter was sentenced to three months for possession of the stolen vehicle and another 14 months consecutively for leaving the scene. Because he had spent so much time in jail before his trial, he was able to walk out of the courthouse the day of his sentencing with his time already served.

Hinkley recognizes the frustration some people may have with that but says it’s a result of the case taking more than two years to get to trial. In Canada, credit for time served in custody before a trial is often 2-to-1.

“That, of course, allowed an enormous amount of time for Mr. Ginter to both be held in custody, be out on bail, return to custody and effectively accumulate more than his eventual sentence before he was even tried for the matter.”

Other than being convicted of manslaughter or dangerous driving causing death, Hinkley says that was likely to be the case going into last week’s trial.

News of Ginter’s sentence was largely met with disappointment and anger on social media, which the Crown prosecutor says he understands. However, Hinkley urges the public to try to realize that criminal trials can only consider objective facts.

“There is nothing I can do as a member of the criminal justice system to do anything to undo the pain that was felt by this family, to make them whole again, to give them back what they have lost,” he laments. “All I can do is attempt to give some objective overview of what happened and hold persons responsible to the extent of the law they are responsible.”

In a post on a memorial Facebook page for Steenhuisen, his loved ones are encouraged to move on after the trial.

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