Judge acquits physically disabled Merritt man of stabbing stranger on street

KAMLOOPS - A physically disabled Merritt man was acting in self defence when an altercation on the street led to a 21-year-old man being stabbed, a Supreme Court judge has ruled.

The aggravated assault trial for 50-year-old John Johnson wrapped up in Kamloops Supreme Court yesterday, March 22, and judge Bruce Butler found Johnson not guilty of the charge today, saying it wasn't likely Johnson was doing anything other than defending himself.

Court heard two different stories this week about the incident. The first story came from the complainant in the case, 23-year-old Jared Shackelly, who claimed that in the early morning hours of Aug. 28, 2015, he was stabbed in the chest during an altercation with Johnson.

In closing arguments, Crown prosecutor Neil Flanagan said Shackelly saw Johnson on the streets of Merritt around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 28, after a full day of drinking and doing drugs with his friends. One of the people drinking with Shackelly that day was Johnson's nephew Seth Russell.

Flanagan said Shackelly testified on the first day of the trial that Johnson, who was sitting on the ground while he charged his electric wheelchair, made a comment that upset Shackelly, although he couldn't remember exactly what was said.

Shackelly testified that he approached Johnson to ask what was said and an altercation ensued after Johnson pushed him. Eventually, Shackelly said he was able to push Johnson to the ground.

Flanagan suggested Johnson was "angry and humiliated" that he was pushed to the ground, so he took out a knife and threatened to kill Shackelly before lunging at him.

"The lunge was with a knife in hand that was thrust into Mr. Shackelly's chest," Flanagan said.

Flanagan said Shackelly began walking away and didn't get very far before he realized he had been stabbed in the chest. He plugged the wound, called 911 and was taken to hospital.

But Johnson took the stand yesterday and had a much different story than Shackelly. He said Shackelly attacked him out of nowhere and Butler ruled that this was the most likely string of events.

Johnson said he was charging his electric wheelchair at a light post in Merritt the day of the offence. Johnson suffered a sciatic nerve injury years ago and is not able to move without the assistance of his wheelchair or cane.

Johnson testified that he regularly hands out food to the less fortunate in Merritt, so when he saw Shackelly coming his way he thought he may be looking for a sandwich.

He said out of nowhere, Shackelly approached him and delivered a blow to his head, which led to an injury on his eyelid. 

"Did you say anything to him at all before, you say, he gives this blow?" Flanagan asked in cross-examination.

"No," Johnson replied.

Johnson testified he suffered about three blows to his head area before he saw an object in Shackelly's hand. Johnson said he suffered a few more blows after that, before he grabbed onto Shackelly's waist in hopes of pulling himself up. Instead, Shackelly fell down and the men struggled on the ground.

Johnson admitted he lunged at Shackelly, but said it was in hopes of stopping Shackelly from potentially stealing bags from his wheelchair. He said he backed Shackelly into a store window. Defence lawyer Don Campbell told the court Shackelly had a knife in his hand, and must have suffered the stab wound when Johnson backed him into the window.

Although Butler sided with Johnson's evidence, he said it was unlikely Shackelly's own weapon would have caused the stab wound.

"Mr. Johnson must have had something in his hand," Butler said.

Johnson testified he had no idea Shackelly was hurt because Shackelly was able to walk away after the altercation. 

In closing arguments, Campbell said he didn't want to be too harsh on Johnson, but suggested it wouldn't make sense for a "middle-aged cripple" to pick a fight with a "strapping 21-year-old." He said Shackelly painted Johnson as the bad guy in order to make himself look better.

"He is trying to create a picture of himself that he can live with easily," Campbell said. "That he was attacked... (and) he didn't do anything wrong."

But Flanagan argued Johnson fabricated the fact that Shackelly had an object in his hand, so he could better explain the stab wound.

"His evidence about something being in Mr. Shackelly's hand is not truthful," Flanagan said. "He knows that he has to insert something into the evidence to explain this stab wound."

Flanagan argued both Johnson and his nephew Seth Russel's testimony contained elements of contrived evidence.

Butler rejected that statement and said although there were questions surrounding how Shackelly ended up being stabbed, it was clear Johnson believed he was acting in self-defence.

"I cannot find that the force he used was unreasonable," Butler said. "Mr. Johnson was repeatedly assaulted by a much younger... man.

"Mr. Johnson... I find you not guilty."


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