Judge in B.C.'s Pickton murder trial discusses sacrifice needed to sit on jury

Stephanie Levitz And Greg Joyce
Canadian Press

Saturday, December 09, 2006

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. (CP) - Jurors who are chosen to hear the case against accused serial killer Robert Pickton will make a huge sacrifice of their time and energy, but one that's required, the judge hearing the case told them.

A line of prospective jurors for the trial of accused serial killer Robert Pickton forms outside B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, B.C., Saturday. (CP PHOTO/ Chuck Stoody)

"One of your responsibilities as Canadian citizens is to participate in our system of justice by acting as jurors from time to time," Justice James Williams said in addressing the 600 potential jurors called to the courthouse in suburban New Westminster on Saturday.

"Trial by jury is an ancient, honoured and important tradition in our society. It enables the justice system to draw on the common sense of men and women of the community."

Williams acknowledged the trial will "last a lengthy period" - most estimates put it at about a year.

"Nevertheless, that sacrifice is the price we pay in a free, democratic country."

Prospective jurors heard Pickton quietly plead not guilty to six counts of first-degree murder.

Folded blue sheets of paper and a look of apprehension were about all the 600 men and women had in common as they arrived at the courthouse.

Many prospective jurors did not want to speak publicly as they lined up outside to clear security, but among those who did comment there were mixed feelings.

"I just don't care to really hear all the facts and I don't feel I'm qualified to make a decision," said one 42-year-old woman.

However, a 68-year-old retired paper mill worker said he'd serve if asked.

"I have lots of time and if they need it I will try to do my best."

One woman said when she first got the summons she didn't know it was for the Pickton trial. But she said she'd do it if she had to.

"I sit at work for eight hours a day anyway," she said.

When asked why, she said: "It needs to happen. I think I could take it."

Another man said when the blue summons arrived in the mail he thought it was a notice to renew his drivers licence - and he wishes that's what it had been.

Under a court order, prospective jurors cannot be identified.

Pickton, 57, is on trial for murder in the deaths of women on Vancouver's seedy Downtown Eastside. He faces 26 counts in total, but the court has severed the case into two for logistical reasons.

The 600 prospective jurors crammed into a main courtroom and various overflow courtrooms to hear Williams' instructions on Saturday.

They will convene in groups starting Monday when Crown and defence lawyers begin selecting 12 jurors and two alternates. Court heard Saturday the process could last two weeks.

The trial will begin Jan. 8.

In British Columbia, jurors are paid on a scale set out in the Jury Act. A juror receives $20 a day for each of the first 10 days of the trial, $60 for the 11th to 49th days and $100 a day for the 50th and each subsequent day of the trial.

If the jury sits four days a week for 50 weeks, the pay would be about $17,000.

Pickton's lead defence lawyer said the search for jurors might not take a long time.

"No one can predict these things with any degree of exactness but I think the optimism as far as the defence is that we can pick a jury relatively quickly in this case, hopefully within a day or two, maybe three," Peter Ritchie said.

The alleged victims are sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside. It is considered the poorest neighbourhood in Canada, but is within easy walking distance of exclusive shopping streets and bank towers.

Women began disappearing from the neighbourhood as early as the 1980s and there have been complaints that police did not act early on because the women were prostitutes.

Pickton was arrested in February 2002 and his trial began in January 2006, hearing procedural arguments.

For the first trial, he is accused of killing Mona Wilson, Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Marnie Frey.

 The Canadian Press 2006

Courtesy of
The Canadian Press



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