VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Thousands to be tapped for 'large and complicated' proceedings
Saturday, July 01, 2006
SUMMONSES - An estimated 3,500 people, who will most likely live in New Westminster, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam or Port Moody, could receive letters this fall telling them they could be potential jurors in Canada's largest serial murder trial.
In a regular murder trial in B.C., about 500 summonses would be issued. But seven times that number will be mailed out in late September or early October for the high-profile trial of Port Coquitlam pig farmer Robert (Willy) Pickton, who is accused of murdering 26 women who vanished from the Downtown Eastside.
"Normally, [court sheriffs] try to select a jury pool from the area in which the crime happened, so one would anticipate the letters would be sent to the Tri-Cities area," said Carol Carmen, director of communications for the Ministry of Attorney-General.
Residents of New Westminster will likely also be included because Pickton is being tried in the Supreme Court in that city. However, Carmen noted that final plans for Pickton's jury selection process will not be confirmed until the judge in the case meets with court sheriffs to iron out the details.
"There's no question it [the jury selection pool] will be an unprecedented number because of the length of this trial and the complexity of this trial," Adrian Brooks, one of Pickton's defence lawyers, said outside court Friday.
Given the media attention on Pickton since his arrest in February 2002, defence lawyers don't expect to find 12 people who have never heard of him -- but, instead, those who have not made up their minds yet on his guilt or innocence.
"I'm sure people have heard of this case -- there's no way around that. The whole point is: Keep an open mind and make a decision based on the evidence that they hear," Brooks said.
Under Canadian law, lawyers are typically not allowed to ask potential jurors questions, but the defence hopes to get permission to do so this time to weed out biased people.
Brooks said the trial could last two years, but added that Crown and defence are working hard to whittle it down.
Those who receive the letters will be gathered together Dec. 9 and then given dates to return to court in smaller groups for jury-selection hearings, which will begin Dec. 11. It is anticipated the jury will be selected before Christmas.
In court Friday, Justice James Williams lifted the publication ban that usually enshrouds Pickton's pre-trial hearings so the media could report that the trial will begin Jan. 8, 2007.
He added that the public should be informed of developments when possible "so we're not seen as a society of people in black who huddle in a courtroom every day."
It was hoped that the trial would start in September, but Williams said the "enormous complexity and the magnitude of the trial" have resulted in that being delayed until January.
"I'm sure there are those in the community who think that this is taking far too long and they are not able to understand why this [trial] hasn't been dealt with and finished by now. My response to that is to say this is a uniquely large and complicated matter. We're proceeding as expeditiously as we can, while at the same time ensuring that it is done properly," he said.
Pickton's pre-trial hearings, which began in January, will determine what evidence will be heard by a jury. That process is expected to continue until October, which Williams said will be time well-spent to make the trial itself as short as possible for jurors.
"We all recognize that those who serve as jurors are asked to make serious sacrifices in fulfilling an important civic duty," he said.
Williams noted this mega-trial is very complicated because police are still investigating leads and forensic labs are still analysing evidence, so new information continues to be sent to the lawyers.
Both the Crown and defence said in court Wednesday that, despite public criticism that the case has dragged on for years, they've been advancing as quickly as possible.
"Everyone is concerned . . . about having this matter placed before the jury as quickly as that can happen," said Crown prosecutor Michael Petrie.
- - -
What jurors are paid in B.C.:
- $20 a day for the first 10 days of a trial.
- $60 a day for Days 11 through 49.
- $100 a day for Day 50 and onward.
Source: Ministry of Attorney-General
Ran with fact box "Trial paycheques", which has been appended to the end of the story.
© The Vancouver Sun 2006
Updated: August 21, 2016