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Convicted Kelowna killer set for release again after breaching probation

Steven Pirko pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of breaching probation and one count of carrying a weapon.
Steven Pirko.

A convicted killer will be released from custody once again after pleading guilty to breaching his probation conditions this past fall.

A jury first convicted Steven Pirko of second-degree murder back in June 2019, for the January 2014 fatal hammer attack on 32-year-old Chris Ausman on Rutland's Highway 33. He was sentenced to a life sentence with no chance of parole until mid-2028.

Pirko successfully appealed the conviction, and instead struck a plea deal with the Crown, pleading guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. As a result, he was sentenced to time served and released from custody this past July, with an additional three years of probation.

But about three and a half months later, Pirko was once again behind bars after he was found carrying brass knuckles and a knife, in breach of his probation conditions.

Additionally, Pirko had not been attending a substance abuse management course as was directed by his probation officer.

Pirko has remained in custody since his arrest in October and he appeared in Kelowna court Thursday by way of video from Maple Ridge's Fraser Regional Correctional Centre to plead guilty to two counts of breaching probation and one count of carrying a weapon.

A 'slip-up'

During sentencing submissions, the Crown said Pirko was stopped by a RCMP officer on Rutland Road just after 9 p.m. on Oct. 21 for riding a bicycle without a helmet. Pirko was wearing all black and had a mask over his face.

Pirko was carrying a nine-inch foldable blade under his jacket and had brass knuckles in his jacket pocket. In his backpack, the officer found an extendable baton and a machete.

The Crown noted that Pirko not attending his substance abuse course was of particular concern because his probation officer had identified that the killing of Ausman back in 2014 had occurred while Pirko was under the influence of drugs.

Defence Counsel Melissa Lowe said Pirko has struggled with substances for many years, and he had “some success” on the methadone program following his arrest for the killing.

“He may have had a slip up back in the fall, but he's gotten back onto that program,” Lowe said. “He's looking forward to doing some of the programming with probation going forward.”

Lowe said Pirko was on social assistance back in the fall, but a friend has offered him a place to stay upon his release.

Both the Crown and defence submitted a joint sentencing submission of 180 days for the three convictions. With enhanced credit for time served, that leaves him with just three days left to serve, before he's released back out on his previous probation conditions.

“I'm sorry to the court for my mistakes back in the fall there,” Pirko said during sentencing. “I know any reason I have for having that stuff in my bag is just going to sound like an excuse ... I know I need to step my game up when it comes to my probation order, and I will.”

During his sentencing for the 2014 killing back in July, Pirko also told the court that he will “continue to try to better myself.”

Killing of Chris Ausman

Ausman's killing occurred in the early morning hours of Jan. 25, 2014. Pirko and his friend Elrich Dyck were walking south on Highway 33 near Rutland Road when they came upon Ausman walking north, on the other side of the road. Ausman had recently left a poker game with friends. All three men were intoxicated.

Pirko and Dyck had never met Ausman before, but words were exchanged, the pair ran over to Ausman and a fight between Ausman and Dyck broke out.

As Ausman got the upper hand in the fist fight, Pirko came up from behind Ausman and struck him multiple times in the head with a hammer he had been carrying.

The blows proved fatal.

Pirko and Dyck left Ausman’s lifeless body on the sidewalk and fled the area. An RCMP officer came upon Ausman’s body later that morning.

Seven-week trial

Pirko was arrested and charged in the killing in November 2016, after close to three years of police investigation. He was convicted of the murder after a seven-week trial in the spring of 2019, and he was sentenced to a life sentence with no chance of parole for 11 years.

Four years later, the BC Court of Appeal overturned the conviction, ruling that Justice Allan Betton’s instructions to the jury were “so confusing as to amount to error in law.”

Rather than proceed with another trial, the Crown accepted the manslaughter plea and he was released from custody on time served, with an additional three years of probation.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t regret what I did," Pirko told Ausman's family during his sentencing. "I don’t expect you to forgive me, but I hope one day you will understand my side. I will continue to try to better myself.