KELOWNA – The man who killed an Ontario tourist with a single punch outside a Kelowna Cactus Club last year has been found not guilty of manslaughter.
After 14 hours of deliberation that started at 3 p.m. June 26, the eight men and four women of the jury disagreed with Crown that even though an intoxicated and aggressive Zach Gaudette challenged a crowd of strangers to fight Feb. 17, 2016, Cory Van Gilder had options other than striking him in the head.
“This is essentially a sucker punch,” Andrew Vandersluys said during final submissions. “Common sense tells you this is not something he was expecting. Mr. Gaudette is looking for a fight, yes, he’s aggressive, he’s angry, but he’s not about to attack.”
Video of the punch was played in court showing Gaudette approach a group outside the restaurant before Van Gilder steps forward and delivers the lethal punch.
It caught him below the ear on the left side of his head, causing a bleed in his brain. He died in hospital two days later.
Van Gilder’s defence team spent more than a week convincing the jury that Van Gilder was acting in self defence. Several witnesses testified that they felt threatened by Gaudette until Van Gilder punched him out.
They described Gaudette, who was extremely intoxicated, as “extraordinarily aggressive” and “in a rage.”
Van Gilder testified to having spent years learning a defensive martial art but says he was unwilling to risk grappling with a man who may have a weapon. A paramedic who transported Gaudette to hospital did find a small knife in his pocket but it was never pulled during the altercation.
“We should not expect he would start wrestling with this person who was in a rage,” Jeff Campbell said. “He threw one punch in defence of himself and the others in the parking lot.”
"The result was tragic but it was unintended.”
— This story was corrected at 7:28 p.m. June 27. A previous version referred, in error, to a sentencing date.
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