(This column was published in the North Shore News on April 19, 2000)


Put the jury system on trial

By Leo Knight

"IF it weren't true, you'd probably dismiss it as improbable fiction." 


I don't recall exactly who said that, but whoever it was could not possibly have even conceived of such an unlikely event as Gillian Guess and Kathy Macdonald taking a stroll together on an Ambleside beach, discussing their roles as jurors boinking accused murderers whose cases they were charged with adjudicating. 


I mean really, in the history of jurisprudence there has never been a single such case. Yet, here in Lotusland we have not one, but two jurors jumping in the sack with accused murderers. 


Headlines last week blared out that Macdonald and Shannon Murrin were in fact lovers. What a shocker that was. After weeks of denying there was anything between them other than cooperating on a book they finally told the truth. Then, as if that weren't enough to stimulate the average person's gag reflex, we learned that Macdonald had sought advice from Guess. Talk about the blind leading the deaf. 


Murrin was accused of murdering little Mindy Tran in Kelowna. While there's little doubt there were some monumental errors by the police in the investigation, it also seems possible, even likely, that he is the killer -- even though the jury found there was reasonable doubt. Don't misunderstand the verdict either. Murrin was not found "innocent" of the charges. There is a big difference. 


In normal circumstances I won't quibble with a jury's verdict. But how can we rely on a verdict that acquitted Murrin of such a horrendous crime when one of the jurors had hot pants for the man in the dock? Can she honestly say she fulfilled her obligation to the court, to the public and to her oath as a juror? I dare say not. 


It's fair to say that whoever killed Mindy Tran is a monster, not a man. In my opinion Murrin is likely that monster. Is it by sheer coincidence that in 1992 there were two attacks on little girls in Edmonton? One of whom, Punky Gustavsen, was abducted while playing with a little friend just outside her home. She was later found dead in an industrial area. The attacks were just a couple of months apart. Shannon Murrin arrived at an Edmonton halfway house in May of that year and left in early October, less than a month after Punky's body was found. 


The Edmonton police have interviewed Murrin on at least two occasions. They are unable to eliminate him as a suspect in that killing. Nor have they been able to build a case against him. 


Did he do it? I don't know. But a killer pedophile predator, such as the individual who killed both little girls, is a pretty rare bird. And it's quite a coincidence that he was in both Edmonton and Kelowna at the time of the abduction and killing of little girls. 


Murrin is a life-long criminal. He has little in the way of any socially redeeming value. One cannot help but think there's an imminent disaster awaiting Kathy Macdonald. 


"It's hormones," she said in an interview with The Province's Sarah Papple. Evidently it's not only men who suffer from terminal stupidity while having a mid-life crisis. 


But, what of all this? Do we scrap the jury system because of a couple of middle-aged bimbos? 


The jury system is supposed to provide an accused with the opportunity to be judged by 12 citizens selected at random from the voter's list. In theory it is fair and equitable. In theory. 


The reality, it seems, is quite different. Increasingly prosecutions are becoming more and more complicated. The legal minefield that has evolved from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms confuses all but the most educated of laymen. 


Then there is technology itself. How many potential jurors can even claim to understand the basic theory behind DNA sampling and testing let alone new advances in DNA such as was introduced in the Murrin trial? 


Not to mention the concept of the make up of juries in the day to day reality of our fast-paced world. Most people are far too busy to take a couple of weeks off for jury duty. Never mind the five or six months such as was needed for the trials Guess and Macdonald sat on. 


Essentially, the only people who are capable of serving on a jury panel are those who are employed by the government or the idle or retired. Anyone else will find a way to get out of jury duty. 


Sad, but it is true.  


Which brings us back to the question of the relevance of juries anymore. Guess' testimony last week in the Court of Appeal hearing into the acquittal of Guess' ex-lover, Peter Gill, illustrates much of the problem. 


She was idle and bored. She consciously or sub-consciously was seeking some excitement. Well, what could be more exciting than doing a little harmless flirting with an accused murderer? But in doing so she turned her back on the real reason she was in the jury box in the first place. Likewise, so did Kathy Macdonald whether she will admit it or not. 


Whether we need to re-think how we select our juries or whether we need to return to always sequestering an empanelled jury or consider dismantling the jury system altogether are valid questions arising from all this nonsense. 


It's high time the Attorney General's office, the Legislature, the Law Society and the senior members of the Bench took a long, hard look at the way we conduct our serious trials.






UPDATE May 2005  

Juror discharged in 'Punky' trial

EDMONTON - The first-degree murder trial of Clifford Sleigh, who has admitted to kidnapping and sexually assaulting a six-year-old girl, was delayed Tuesday after a juror was discharged.   

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