I have been watching with keen interest the ongoing saga of the jury on the VIA terrorism trial. As of this writing in its tenth day of deliberation with no less than 5 notes coming from that jury to the judge for various explanations of the law and legal matters.
The reason for my interest is 18 years ago this week I was selected to be on a jury for a particularly grisly first degree murder trial, which was fairly infamous at that time out on the west coast.
In Canada unlike the US it is illegal for a juror to discuss the happenings and discussions of a closed jury’s deliberations on pain of a contempt of court charge. But I think enough time and distance has passed and I will not mention any names. It was a very interesting experience which I would like to share with you all. It gives a little insight in a very rarely discussed part of our country’s legal system.
The defendant was charged with the first degree murder of his 8 year old daughter and the aggravated assault of his 11 year old son who was left in a vegetative state in a wheel chair. He had attacked both of his children with an axe killing his daughter instantly because she was asleep at the time of the attack. His son was awakened by the noise of the attack on his sleeping sister next to him and managed to hold up a hand in self defense, so the boy survived. I will not tell you the details of the injuries sustained by these poor kids but the horror of the court photos still lives with me today.
There was never any question about his guilt and he was not denying that he attacked his children. His defense team were trying to say that he was not guilty by reason of insanity. I will not do a blow by blow account of the trial but the gist of his motive was he was a very jealous possessive man, his wife had left him and had full custody of the two kids. He was a complete loser who could not hold down steady employment. The wife had also met a new guy and was getting on with her life. He killed his daughter and maimed his son to punish his wife for leaving him. The damning piece of evidence was video footage of him buying an axe at Lumberland six weeks prior to the murder, which showed premeditation. I remember the very brilliant prosecutor grilling the defendant as follows:
Prosecutor: “Do you go camping?”
Prosecutor: “Is there a fireplace in your apartment?”
Prosecutor: “Did you do any brush or tree cleanup for a friend prior to the incident?”
Prosecutor: “Then would you mind explaining to the members of the jury the reason why you were buying an axe in that video? Which is the same style and type of axe used to attack your children.”
The defendant then went into a blubbering diatribe about not remembering anything and being in an out of body experience blah blah blah. Disgusting human being!!!
After six weeks of trial we as a jury were handed the case. The jury consisted of myself a self-employed plumber. Three school teachers (one who was retired) all women. A law school student male around 23 years old. Two female homemakers. A middle aged male bank employee. A retired male accountant. A young man with no specific job skills. A male firefighter. A female shop assistant.
We voted for a jury foreman first. As you all know I can be quite loud an opinionated so needless to say I was not nominated to be foreman (a decision this jury would later regret). Everyone apart from myself decided that the youngest of the school teachers would make the best foreman/woman. I voted for the firefighter. The next part of the proceedings was to take an informal vote to see where everyone was at in terms of the case. It was five to convict on first degree murder, five on the fence and two believed the insanity plea. Believe it or not I was one of the people on the fence. My reasoning was that we had spent six weeks listening to evidence and testimony. I took my place as a small cog in Canada’s justice system quite seriously and I wanted to review some of the evidence and talk about it with the other members of the jury.
The way a trial works in Canada is once a jury is handed a trial it is sequestered in a hotel and escorted and guarded by uniformed court officials until they reach a verdict. We were housed on a floor of the Days Inn Hotel with a guard posted at each end of the hall way. We were not allowed to read newspapers or watch news about the trial while we were sequestered.
By day four of deliberations we were at eleven voting to convict on first degree murder and one person voting not guilty by reason of insanity. A jury in a criminal trial in Canada has to have complete consensus and has to be unanimous either way. Anything other than that is a hung jury meaning a retrial and a judge will try very hard not to let that happen. The judge had handed us this case on a Monday at around lunch time. So we as a jury were now looking down the barrel of a weekend of deliberations. We called it quits early on the Friday afternoon as tempers were getting frayed. One of the jurors (a homemaker) and of East Indian decent had never been away from her husband and family for more than one night and had tried very hard (as most of us did) to not get picked. She was beside herself at the prospect of not going home for the weekend. The one holdout was the law school student. He was getting some credits for his jury time plus it was probably the first time in a year or so he was getting three square meals a day.
(To be continued)