‘Ottawa’ Ottawa Murder Trial Involving Alleged Love Triangle Begins After Delays Over Trauma Fears
A first-degree murder trial centred on allegations of a deadly love triangle begins today in Ottawa after unusual delays because some jurors, chosen from a pool of 500, stepped down for fear they’d be traumatized by the evidence.
The trial of Bhupinderpal Gill and Gurpreet Ronald was supposed to start earlier this week, but was pushed back twice after several jurors asked to step down.
Gill’s wife, Jagtar Gill, a 43-year-old mother of three, was bludgeoned and stabbed to death in 2014.
On separate occasions, three female jurors told the judge they were afraid of being traumatized by the expected graphic evidence, and asked to be excused from their civic duties.
After hearing their concerns, Superior Court Justice Julianne Parfett agreed to let them go, forcing the court to scramble to find replacements.
Concerns fear being used to shirk jury duty
The president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, Anne London-Weinstein, says she has never seen so many jurors use the same excuse to be removed from their duties.
“Three in one trial? I wonder if they were within earshot of each other during the jury selection process,” she said.
‘People are reluctant to do their civic duty because it’s a big interruption in your life.’
– Anne London-Weinstein, president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa
London-Weinstein doesn’t think the evidence will be especially violent, and says she’s concerned about the general unwillingness of the public to serve on juries.
“People are reluctant to do their civic duty because it’s a big interruption in your life,” said London-Weinstein.
The trial is expected to take seven weeks. Although some lawyers are concerned fear of trauma is being used as an excuse to shirk jury duty, the courts must take it into account.
The emotional state of one juror can have an impact on the outcome, says criminal defence lawyer Norm Boxall, who has been involved in many high-profile murder and terror trials over the past 30 years. He says he’s seeing more people get exempted from jury duty because of mental health concerns.
‘No one — not the crown, the defence or the judge — want a juror who won’t be able to do the job.’ – Norm Boxall, criminal defence lawyer
“If a person, for whatever reason in their makeup or background or personality, doesn’t feel like they can do a proper job and do the job impartially, then they should be excused,” said Boxall.
“No one — not the Crown, the defence or the judge — want a juror who won’t be able to do the job.”
Lawyers can’t probe deeper to verify truth
Although Boxall believes anxiety is a valid reason to get out of jury duty, he says it’s impossible to verify a person’s state of mental health. The only information provided to the Crown and defence about potential jurors are their names, addresses and occupation.
Usually lawyers aren’t allowed to pose questions to potential jurors, but sometimes the court clerk can probe for prejudice.
During this trial’s jury selection process, the clerk asked participants who were under oath if they were biased against Sikhs and if they had knowledge of the case through media reports. If they passed that initial test, both the prosecutor and the defence had the right to refuse. The defence teams for Gill and Ronald each had 20 vetoes, while the Crown could issue 40 challenges.
A total of 480 potential jurors were vetted, and most were excused for personal reasons, other than mental health concerns. Some were let go because of sickness, lack of child care or lack of English skills. Others were dismissed because their employer wouldn’t pay them while they were on jury duty, or if they knew one of the witnesses who would be testifying.
It took a total of four days — about twice as long as usual — to get a jury together.
Starting Friday, seven men and five women will hear opening statements.