When B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ronald Tindale declared Jeremy Matthew Kostyshyn not guilty and "free to go," the public gallery erupted in applause.
More than a dozen supporters, many colleagues of the former Prince George firefighter, watched Friday as Kostyshyn was found not guilty on four counts of possession of stolen property: a Thunder Jet boat, its trailer, an all-terrain vehicle and two snowmobiles.
The 34-year-old was also found not guilty on four counts of trafficking of a mini excavator, a skid steer and their trailers bought by a former colleague, Kevin Woodhouse, from the family friend who sold Kostyshyn the jet boat.
Tindale found "no evidence" the snowmobiles and ATV found on his property in May 2013 were stolen, and noted the Crown "all but conceded" the charges didn't have enough proof.
Rather, Crown prosecutor Marie Louise Ahrens argued they were included because "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
"Mr. Kostyshyn is literally surrounded by stolen or suspicious property," Ahrens said in her closing statements. "If ever there were a case of willful blindness, this is it."
But Tindale said the Crown did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt Kostyshyn knew any of the vehicles or equipment were stolen, several times referring to Kostyshyn's testimony in the accused man's favour.
"I did not find the accused was evasive," said Tindale in response to Ahrens characterization of Kostyshyn's answers, except when it came to the boat and trailer on his property.
In the case of the stolen 2010 Thunder Jet boat and its trailer, valued at $58,000, Tindale had "considerable problems" with Kostyshyn's comments.
But Tindale ruled a receipt for a $9,500 cash payment calling it a "U-built boat" and a car transfer made the difference in the ruling on the boat, despite having its vehicle identification number removed and a new one that "clearly appears to be fake."
"In this case the documentation that the accused has provided ... in my view raises reasonable doubt as to whether or not the accused had knowledge that the boat and trailer were stolen," Tindale said.
Tindale called the circumstances of both of Woodhouse's transactions "suspicious," but didn't lay blame with Kostyshyn, who Ahrens's argued brokered the deal.
"He was never in possession of this property nor was he buying this property. Perhaps Mr. Woodhouse should have made those inquiries," said Tindale of the stolen skid steer - bought for $17,000 but valued at $57,200 - and mini-excavator.
In his closing arguments, defence lawyer Patrick Fagan highlighted Woodhouse's words supporting Kostyshyn's character.
"It was he who had direct dealings with Mr. Kostyshyn. It was he who lost significant amount of his hard-earned money. It was therefore Mr. Woodhouse who potentially had the biggest axe to grind," Fagan said. "And yet by the end of his testimony, the case for the prosecution for all intents and purposes was over."
Kostyshyn, who made $80,000 a year as a firefighter, was first suspended with pay, then days later without. Four months later, he was dismissed from the department.
Since then Kostyshyn, who has sole custody of his five-year-old son, has done some seasonal work in the oil rigs and worked for friends. He has said he would like to return to work as a firefighter, or pursue schooling as a nurse.
Before handing down his verdict, Tindale dismissed the defence's Charter of Rights and Freedoms application, which argued Kostyshyn's rights had been violated through unreasonable delay.
While Kostyshyn's September 2015 trial date was well beyond the recommended 10 to 14 months from being charged, Tindale said 11 months of the delay was an institutional issue, 12 months could be blamed on the Crown, and three months blamed on defence.