Hundreds prepared to serve as Pickton jurors

Globe and Mail

November 10, 2006

VANCOUVER -- Hundreds of people have notified the court they are prepared to serve on the jury in the first-degree-murder trial of Robert Pickton.

The sensational serial-slaying trial was expected to have trouble finding jurors willing to sit through a year-long court case and listen to allegations of horrific brutality.

However, the sheriff's office now anticipates that as many as 600 people may be available on Dec. 9 at the start of the process to select 12 jurors.

"They do not necessarily want to do it, but they recognize their duty as a citizen," deputy sheriff Marin Debruyn said yesterday in an interview.

Some people are concerned about the nature of the evidence, he said.

"But most people say the same thing -- it's a nice thing to hear. 'It's my duty to do it and I will do it.' It is good for them to step up like that," Mr. Debruyn said.

Anticipating difficulties in finding jurors, the sheriff's office sent out 3,500 summonses in the last week of October. The names were chosen at random from the B.C. voters list for constituencies close to the courthouse.

As expected, many who received a summons did not qualify to serve or applied for an exemption. Jurors must be at least 19 years old, a Canadian citizen and a resident of British Columbia. Lawyers, police officers and certain other occupations are disqualified. Seniors, students, individuals with health problems and those with firm travel plans are among the long list of those who qualify for an exemption.

The sheriff's office has already exempted many people who said they would suffer personal or financial hardship if they had to serve on the Pickton jury, Mr. Debruyn said.

One of the most frequent grounds for an exemption is that the pay to serve on a jury is inadequate.

Jurors receive $20 a day for the first 10 days of a trial, $60 a day for the following 39 days and $100 a day for each day afterward. A juror would receive about $16,500 for a trial that sits four days a week for one year.

Many companies continue to pay employees' salaries while they serve on a jury. "But if they are not paid by their employers, the money the government pays is not enough to support themselves," Mr. Debruyn said.

Those who received a summons cannot exempt themselves, he added. They have to write a letter explaining their circumstances and then the sheriff's office reviews their situation. "We make sure it is a valid application. If it is, we excuse them," he said.

In the normal course of events, the sheriff's office at the New Westminster courthouse would send out 500 summonses every month to bring together enough people for jury trials over a one-month period. Normally, about 20 per cent -- 100 people -- are available for the jury-selection process. The jury pool provides jurors for each scheduled trial during that month. Some months the court may have as many as five jury trials; in other months, only one may be held, Mr. Debruyn said.

The sheriff's office sent out seven times as many summonses for the Pickton trial, anticipating widespread resistance to sitting on the jury. But officials misjudged the response.

"They are still coming in, but we already got plenty of them. We got more than we need. It's not going to be a problem," Mr. Debruyn said.

The court will really not know how many members of the public are in the potential jury pool until the process begins Dec. 9.

"But basically it seems like this is a regular trial. So far, there is nothing really that is unusual about it," Mr. Debruyn said.

Mr. Pickton is on trial for murder in the deaths of 26 women in Vancouver's notorious missing-women case. A trial on six first-degree charges is slated to begin Jan. 8.

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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