Steven Pirko was either a hammer-wielding murderer or a reluctant saviour to a friend when he brought a deadly end to a Rutland street fight.
Jurors will begin deliberations Thursday in the second-degree murder trial of Pirko, charged with killing Chris Ausman.
The Crown and defence made their closing arguments on Wednesday, presenting jurors with competing narratives for Pirko’s actions and motives when he hit Ausman several times in the head with a hammer.
“Each and every time Mr. Pirko hit Mr. Ausman in the head with a hammer from behind, he knew he could kill him,” Crown prosecutor David Grabavac told jurors.
“Mr. Ausman had no way to defend himself. He never saw the blows that took his life,” Grabavac said. “Mr. Pirko brought a hammer into what was a consensual street fight.”
However, defence lawyer Jordan Watt said Pirko felt he had no choice but to intervene in the fight between Ausman and Elrich Dyck, a longtime friend of Pirko’s and someone he regarded as a brother.
“Mr. Pirko was witnessing his good friend getting beat up, not fighting back, needing assistance,” Watt told jurors. “What Mr. Pirko did in the situation was reasonable, given all the circumstances.”
Watt described Pirko as being a “drunk, skinny and scared” youth in the early hours of Jan. 25, 2014, as he watched Ausman and Dyck, both much bigger than him, fight on the sidewalk near the corner of Rutland Road and Highway 33.
A valid defence to a charge of second-degree murder, Watt said, is if the accused acted reasonably to protect someone who was being assaulted.
But Grabavac said Pirko, 26, was an adult who had to be held responsible for deliberately killing Ausman. Pirko watched the fight for 75 seconds, Grabavac said, before stepping forward, withdrawing a hammer he was carrying and repeatedly hitting Ausman.
“He was not a scared, panicked little kid. He introduced a hammer into a fight he was not part of,” Grabavac said, adding that Pirko might have tried any number of non-lethal ways to interrupt or end the fight if he was genuinely worried for Dyck’s safety.
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” Watt countered. “Consider Mr. Pirko’s actions in the moment, not five years later with the benefit of hindsight.”
Pirko lied repeatedly to police during the investigation, Grabavac noted, suggesting Pirko was also lying when he took the stand in his own defence during the seven-week trial to say he only hit Ausman after Dyck called out for help.
Pirko and Dyck did not know Ausman before the fight. The three Rutland men, all of whom had been drinking earlier that night, encountered each other by chance.
Video surveillance tapes played for the jurors showed Dyck gesturing and waving his arms to people on the other side of Highway 33, apparently trying to pick a fight. The tapes show Ausman then running across the highway toward Dyck and Pirko, but the actual fight happened just out of the camera’s range.
Judge Allan Betton will give his charge to the seven-woman, five-man jury Thursday morning. Pirko could be found guilty of second-degree murder, convicted of a lesser offence like manslaughter, or acquitted.