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Man with gun

A tale of two shootings

Wednesday, February 22, 2023 @ 10:44 AM | By John L. Hill

John L. Hill %>
John L. Hill
“I didn’t know the gun was loaded!” That summarizes the first response of actor-producer Alec Baldwin when a gun used on the set of the upcoming movie Rust discharged killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza in October 2021.

The words also summarize the explanation of drug trafficker Glenn Gaetan in the shooting death of his customer and former roommate Martin Hauck after the two had consumed drugs and alcohol at Hauck’s Toronto apartment in April 2017. In neither case was there any suspicion that the deaths were premeditated. Both Baldwin and Gaetan had business dealings with trusted cohorts. There was no motive. Yet Baldwin was charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and Gaetan faced a second-degree murder charge. It was an accident. What could go wrong with such a defence?

The two incidents are not really comparable. Baldwin is a popular movie and television star. He is likable and apt to do well in front of a jury. His lawyers were successful in having a statute that could have seen Baldwin face up to five years in prison dropped as unconstitutional because it was not in force at the date of the shooting. Instead, if negligence is proved, Baldwin could face a maximum of 18 months and a $5,000 fine. Gaetan was not well-received by a jury. His criminal lifestyle was no doubt a contributing factor in his conviction. Juries sometimes just want to take the trash out. He faces life imprisonment. Baldwin will go to trial; Gaetan appealed.

On Feb. 21, a three-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal assessed the evidence that supposedly showed guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and concluded the jury was right in convicting (R. v. Gaetan 2023 ONCA 114) with Justice Katherine van Rensburg writing the unanimous decision.

Much of the evidence dealt with Gaetan’s “after-the-fact” conduct. Defence believed the trial judge erred in not limiting the jury in what use could be made of events that occurred after the trigger was pulled. Things the jury heard included Gaetan’s leaving the apartment right after the shooting, disassembling and scattering parts of the gun in different locations and changing out of his clothes and shoes. Hauck’s body was not discovered until two days later. Could such behaviour influence a jury into considering Gaetan was of such bad character that he was more likely than not to have killed Hauck maliciously?

When the Appeal Court judges reviewed the transcript, they found the trial judge’s charge was thorough and fair. The charge had been vetted prior to delivery by both Crown and defence. “Just as the after-the-fact conduct evidence was relevant to the defence position that the shooting was accidental — in the sense that the appellant believed that the gun was not loaded — it was relevant to the Crown’s position to the contrary,” the court concluded.

There had been evidence of extensive use of alcohol and crack cocaine shortly before the shooting. Could a drunkenness defence be used to mitigate the charge? The Appeal Court considered this and acknowledged adequate instruction had been given regarding both accident and intoxication. Again, defence counsel had approved the wording prior to delivery. A jury would not have convicted if these instructions were considered and the defence accepted, the Appeal Court reasoned.

The third ground argued by defence — that the verdict was unreasonable — was also dismissed. The victim was shot at close range with a gun pointed towards his head and the after-the-fact conduct is consistent with a reasonable conclusion of guilt based on all the evidence.

Perhaps Glenn Gaetan’s biggest mistake was electing to be tried in front of a jury. He certainly did not have the popular appeal of an Alec Baldwin. Could it be that sometimes, in a jury’s mind, who you are is as important as what you have done?

John L. Hill practised and taught prison law until his retirement. He holds a J.D. from Queen’s and LL.M. in constitutional law from Osgoode Hall. He is also the author of Pine Box Parole: Terry Fitzsimmons and the Quest to End Solitary Confinement (Durvile & UpRoute Books), which was published Sept. 1. Contact him at

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