Youth granted new trial in officer’s death pleads guilty to manslaughter

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A young man granted a second trial in a 2011 highway crash that killed an Ontario police officer has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case.

The man was previously convicted of first-degree murder in the death of York Regional Police Const. Garrett Styles, but the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the conviction last October.

The province's top court found the trial judge erred in failing to caution jurors that they should consider the accused's age and level of maturity at the time of the deadly crash, where court heard Styles was dragged by a van the man was driving.

The incident killed Styles and left the man, who was 15 at the time, a quadriplegic.

York Regional Police issued a statement saying the manslaughter plea agreed upon by both the Crown and defence will spare the Styles family from the pain of a second trial.

The force says the man is being sentenced to two years probation and several conditions on future operation of a vehicle.

"The Crown consulted extensively with members of the Styles family, who felt very strongly they could not endure another trial," York Police Chief Eric Jolliffe said in the statement.

"It also considered the impact of a second trial on witnesses, many of them first responders. While this result is not what many of us were hoping for, after eight gruelling years navigating the criminal justice system and consulting closely with the Crown, this outcome seemed to best serve all involved."

The man's name can not be released since he was 15 at the time of Styles' death and his identity is therefore shielded by the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The man's lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment on the manslaughter plea.

During the man's first trial, court heard that he had taken his parents' van out for a late-night drive on June 28, 2011. He was driving with friends despite having no licence when Styles pulled them over in East Gwillimbury, Ont.

Court heard Styles sought to impound the van and repeatedly asked the teen driver to step out of the vehicle, eventually reaching inside to unbuckle his seatbelt.

The van then suddenly accelerated and dragged the officer about 300 metres before veering off the road and landing on top of him.

At the heart of the trial was whether the 15-year-old meant to drive away, as the Crown alleged, or did so accidentally while in a state of panic, as the defence argued.

He was found guilty in 2015 and sentenced to a conditional supervision order for nine years, after the trial judge found he had been rehabilitated and was already effectively serving a life sentence as a result of his physical state.

The man appealed his conviction, alleging the trial judge made several legal errors and that the first-degree murder verdict was unreasonable.

The Court of Appeal set the conviction aside on the grounds that the judge should have explicitly asked the jury to factor age and life experience into its assessment of whether he could have reasonably foreseen that his actions would lead to Styles' death.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

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