Pickton jury candidates to face scrutiny

Judge to begin questioning would-be jurors on their ability to remain impartial

Neal Hall
Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Potential jurors for the trial of accused serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton will face a more intense screening process than normal to ensure trial fairness and juror impartiality, the trial judge ruled Monday.

CREDIT: Vancouver Sun file.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams decided the notoriety of the case and the predicted year-long trial length required a more involved jury selection process than occurs for most murder trials.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams decided the notoriety of the case and the predicted year-long trial length required a more involved jury selection process than occurs for most murder trials.

In a ruling released Monday, the judge outlined the process to select 12 jurors and two alternate jurors for Pickton's trial on six counts of first-degree murder, which is set to begin Jan. 8.

The pre-screening jury selection process begins Saturday at the New Westminster Law Courts, when a jury pool of up to 600 people is expected to gather to hear an address from the judge explaining the jury selection process.

"As the panel is too large to accommodate in any one room, they will be seated in locations throughout the building where they will be linked via audio and video to Courtroom 102," the judge said in his ruling.

The judge also decided to ban the publication of the names and identities of the jury members, and ruled they cannot be photographed.

"Those persons who are selected to sit as jurors in this case are entitled to a reasonable measure of privacy," the judge said in his ruling.

"Their hands will be full without having to contend with the glare of attention that will focus on this trial and the possibility that others might seek them out and attempt to discuss the case or otherwise influence them."

Williams also noted the case has attracted "an unprecedented level of media interest, with the result that it is reasonable to believe that almost everyone called as a potential juror will have been exposed to substantial reporting of the events and the investigation that led to this trial."

On Saturday, prospective jurors are expected to be divided into groups of 30 and asked to return Monday, when they are expected to be questioned by the judge about their ability to remain impartial.

"I have determined that it is appropriate that there should be a specific challenge for cause conducted in respect to each juror who has not been excused at the pre-screening stage ... ," the judge said in his ruling.

"Both the Crown and defence counsel accept that this is appropriate," the judge added.

The challenge for cause process involves selecting two potential jurors to act as the initial "triers," who will decide whether a potential juror is acceptable after being asked a number of questions by the judge. If a person is deemed acceptable, the defence and Crown will decide whether they are content with the person.

The Crown and defence each are allowed 22 "peremptory challenges" of jurors.

Before the jurors enter this process, each will be given two documents: a list of names of people connected to the case or the police investigation; and an explanation by the trial judge of the process by which they could be exempted for jury duty -- for family, health or financial reasons that could constitute a personal hardship.

Hardship could apply if a person is self-employed and their business could be jeopardized by their absence.

Exemptions can also be granted if a person has a limited ability to understand English or confirmed travel plans that conflict with the scheduled trial date.

Potential jurors who ask to be excused may be asked to provide follow-up supporting documentation for an illness or travel plans.

Pickton was first charged with two counts of first-degree murder on Feb. 22, 2002. By Oct. 2, he was charged with 15 counts.

The six-month preliminary hearing began in January 2003 in Port Coquitlam Provincial Court before Judge David Stone, who ordered Pickton to stand trial on 15 counts of first-degree murder. A publication ban was imposed to ensure the fairness of the trial process and has continued during the pre-trial hearing phase this year.

Earlier this year, 20 counts were severed from the indictment and a separate trial will be held for those counts. No trial date has been set for those counts.


Normally, about 500 summons letters are sent out by the sheriff's department to empanel a jury, but because of the projected 12-month trial and complexity of the Pickton case, about 3,500 letters were mailed to potential jurors, whose names were chosen at random from the voters list.

About 600 potential jurors are expected Saturday at the New Westminster Law Courts.

Twelve jurors and two alternate jurors will be selected from the jury pool area, which includes New Westminster, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, Port Moody, south to the border (Surrey/White Rock) and east to 264th including Aldergrove.

The two alternate jurors will fill any vacancies in the jury that may arise between the selection date and the commencement of trial. If they are not required to fill a vacancy, they will be excused on the first day of trial.

Justice James Williams said in his ruling:

"Jury service is a valuable contribution to society and an important civic duty. While it is a sacrifice we expect members of the community to make from time to time, the sacrifice that will be required of these particular jurors will be especially onerous.

"The duration of the trial will be long, the evidence will be complex and, at times, challenging, and the proceedings will be the subject of intense public and media scrutiny and attention....The sole purpose in imposing publication restrictions [on the names of jurors] is to enable the jurors to perform their duties with a sensible measure of privacy."

Ran with fact box "Jurors Chosen From List of 3,500", which has been appended to the end of the story.

 The Vancouver Sun 2006

The Vancouver Sun
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