Evidence will be 'graphic, distressing'

Justice James Williams said the Pickton trial could start slightly later than expected

Lori Culbert
Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Potential jurors for the Robert (Willie) Pickton serial murder trial were warned that the evidence in the case will be "graphic and distressing," that the trial may not start on time and it could last longer than a year.

Those were among the comments Justice James Williams made to the potential jurors who gathered in New Westminster Supreme Court Monday and Tuesday for the first public stage of a criminal trial that will be one of the longest and most complicated in Canadian history.

CREDIT: Felicity Don Illustration, The Vancouver Sun

Robert Pickton in court

"Given the nature of the allegations against Mr. Pickton, the evidence will at times be quite graphic and distressing. At other times it will be somewhat technical and complex, concerning scientific matters such as DNA," Williams said.

"Serving on this jury will not be a holiday; it will involve a great deal of hard work."

And although he didn't elaborate, Williams also hinted at the challenge lawyers still face in preparing for the complicated trial, even though it's been five years since Pickton's arrest.

He said the trial, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 8, 2007, could start slightly later than expected.

"There is also a possibility there may be some delay at the start of the trial, but if there is, I suspect it will only be in the order of a week or two," Williams said.

He said the trial has been estimated to last 12 months, but could run longer.

Despite Williams's warning to the group, it took just two days to find 14 people -- 12 jurors and two alternates -- willing to weigh the fate of Pickton, who is accused of being Canada's worst serial killer.

"Two days to select a jury in a case like this when there has been so much [media] exposure is pretty good, is pretty efficient. I thought things went quite well," lead defence lawyer Peter Ritchie told reporters outside court.

"I think the people who are on this jury appear to be very fair, very fair in their approach to this case. A number of them expressed that they approach this case with an open mind and have not reached conclusions."

The 14 people were chosen from just 68 candidates -- a small percentage of the 473 potential jurors scheduled to attend court this week and next for the jury selection process. The list of 473 had been whittled down from an initial group of 3,500 Lower Mainland residents who received a summons for the case.

The main jurors are seven men and five women, whose occupations include bartending, studying and physiotherapy. Five of them are retired.

Two of the men appear to be in their 30s or 40s, while the remaining five have grey hair and appear to be 60 or older.

The five women range in age from the early 20s to older than 60.

The alternate jurors are a man who appears to be in his 30s, and a woman who appears to be in her 40s. They will only serve on the jury if any of the first 12 bow out before the start of the trial.

As part of the screening process, the potential jurors were given a long list of names of people with some connection to the massive case, to ensure they didn't know anyone. It was not revealed how long the list was, but Williams jokingly said -- without the jurors in the room -- that it was big enough to be the "Penticton phone book." It contained at least 1,074 names, because person No. 1,074 was referred to once during the proceedings.

Williams acknowledged that asking citizens to do jury duty is an inconvenience, but he said it benefits society because jurors bring "common sense and everyday reason" to the justice system.

He told the potential jurors they should approach their task with no fear, favour or prejudice, and base any verdict "solely on the evidence that they see and hear in the courtroom ... What is crucial is that you are able to set aside any opinion or any feelings and decide this case solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom."

He also told them that the questions asked of them in court were to determine issues such as their personal interest in the case, if they knew anyone involved in the case, any personal hardship they would face because of serving on the jury, or any other valid reason that would make them unsuitable to serve on the jury.

 The Vancouver Sun 2006

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The Vancouver Sun



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