Alberta teen found guilty of shooting German tourist, leaving him paralyzed

CALGARY — A youth has been found guilty of shooting a German tourist in the head on a highway west of Calgary last year in what court heard was likely a case of mistaken identity.

A judge convicted the boy from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, who cannot be identified because he was 16 at the time, of aggravated assault and recklessly discharging a firearm into a vehicle.

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Court heard that Horst Stewin was driving a black SUV on the First Nation's land in the foothills of the Rockies with his family when someone in a passing car shot him. His vehicle veered off the highway and crashed into some trees.

Stewin survived and was transported back to Germany, where doctors removed eight bullet fragments from his brain. He is paralyzed on his right side, gets confused and has memory issues.

"In respect to the eyewitness testimony and statements, the Crown has proven that (the 16-year-old) was the shooter," said Judge George Gaschler in a brief statement in court. "That evidence meets the required standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

The youth, who is now 17, stared blankly when the verdict was read. He later smiled and waved at his family members who were in the courtroom.

A sentencing hearing is to be held on Feb. 10. Both a Gladue report, which considers an offenders Indigenous background as part of the sentencing process, and a psychological assessment have been ordered.

The trial heard how Stewin and his family were in the area because Stewin rides horses and was a fan of the western lifestyle.

Stewin's wife told police that a vehicle passed by with its front passenger window rolled down, and a man wearing a ball cap shot her husband. She said she heard a pop and smelled smoke before Stewin slumped forward.

"Ms. Stewin's eyewitness testimony is subject to the limitations of the fleeting time of observation, her recollection impacted by an immediate, unknown fear and stress of the situation to the natural effort to make sense of an event that is so out of the normal," the judge said in his written ruling.

"Her testimony is correct in part, incorrect in part and uncertain in part."

Three other people who were in the car with the teen testified that the teen was the shooter, although they said they had not actually watched him pull the trigger.

The car's driver testified that he and his three passengers had been drinking vodka and smoking meth that day. He said he thought the black SUV belong to a man who had beaten up his younger brother.

The defence argued that the witness's statements were hard to believe, but the judge disagreed.

"I find that the three witnesses ... each in their own way and each from their own position and perspective identify (the accused) as the shooter."

Gaschler also believed a Facebook message attributed to the accused boasting about the shooting and how the police were looking for him.

"It was made with the obvious knowledge of (the teen) that he was vulnerable to penal consequences,' " the judge found.

Defence lawyer Balfour Der said he was disappointed with the verdict.

"I thought there was plenty of reasonable doubt in this case based primarily on the quality of these witnesses the prosecution called," he said outside court. "I don't know you could have believed anything they said."

Der said he will assess the verdict before deciding whether to appeal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2019.

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