Close to 500 people remain potential jurors in Pickton trial

By Neal Hall and Lori Culbert
CanWest News Service

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It took three and a half hours Saturday for 473 potential jurors to be processed through the Supreme Court at New Westminster, in the first stage of selecting a jury for Robert (Willie) Pickton's serial murder trial.

As the hearing began at 10 a.m., Pickton stood in the prisoner's box and repeated "Not guilty, your honour" six times in a quiet voice as he was asked if he had committed the first-degree murder of: Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey.

More than 473 potential jurors arrived at the courthouse Saturday, but several were excused before the 10 a.m. procedure got underway because they had various reasons that they said prohibited them from sitting on the jury of one of Canada's longest criminal trials.

One man, leaving the courthouse, said he told the sheriffs that he had a broken back, which prevented him sitting for long periods of time.

Another woman who was excused said outside court that she left because she has a disability that causes concentration problems.

(Media outlets have been ordered by the court to not identify any potential jurors until the final panel of 12 jurors and two alternates have been selected.)

Justice James Williams thanked the remaining 473 for participating in the jury selection process, calling it an "ancient and honoured tradition" in our society.

By 1:15 p.m. Monday, the 473 potential jurors were divided into groups of 30, and told to return to the courthouse on specific dates between Dec. 11 and Dec. 20.

They will be asked a series of questions on those days, with the intent to find 12 jurors and two alternates. The alternates will be dismissed if they are not needed by the start of the trial, which is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2007.

Outside court Saturday,  lead defence lawyer Peter Ritchie praised court sheriffs for making the process Saturday stream-lined and efficient, and remained optimistic that 12 "fair-minded" people could be found in a few days to hear his client's case.

Many potential jurors who spoke to The Sun as they entered court Saturday morning said they would be willing to serve as a juror for the murder trial, despite the fact it might last a year and could contain disturbing evidence.

A 47-year-old woman said she would have no problem sitting on the jury. "A year is long but it's perfectly fine for me," she said.

Asked if the expected graphic testimony about murders would bother her, she replied:"I used to work in a hospital emergency room and the morgue for 10 years, so I've seen it all. I've seen everything."

But another man, who said he was a trucker, said he didn't want to be picked as a juror because a year-long trial would be difficult. "Too long," he said.

On Monday, jurors will be asked if they have any reasons they will not be able to sit on the jury, such as any hardship a year-long trial could cause.

The judge will also ask jurors if they can be impartial. The 473 were whittled down from a list of 3,500 randomly selected Lower Mainland residents who received summonses to be potential

Saturday was one of the largest gatherings of potential jurors in B.C. history.

Pickton is charged with 26 murder counts but 20 were severed by the trial judge last summer and will be dealt with in a separate trial. The judge decided a trial on 26 counts would be an unreasonable burden on the jury because it would take too long. The Crown has alleged that all the women disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

 CanWest News Service 2006

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CanWest News Service



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