Physically distant jury pre-screening begins in Fredericton shooting trial
For the first time a New Brunswick court is pre-screening jurors ahead of jury selection day
The first steps in finding a jury began Tuesday for the fitness hearing, and possible criminal trial of Matthew Vincent Raymond, the man facing four counts of first-degree murder after a shooting in Fredericton two years ago.
Speaking to potential jurors, Justice Larry Landry said pre-screening jurors for possible excuses ahead of jury selection is unprecedented in the province.
"For the first time I believe in New Brunswick this court has accepted to do a jury pre-screening," he said. "And during the pandemic of COVID-19 [this] is a way to avoid having too many people at the same time, at the same place, when some of them do not have to be present."
At the Fredericton Convention Centre, where court has been operating to maintain physical distancing, more than 30 people were excused from serving on the jury in the first half of the day. Around 20 more were not excused.
Potential jurors who indicated they might have a conflict or something else preventing them from being part of a jury, were split into groups and given hourly slots. They sat on chairs two metres apart, holding or wearing face shields given to them by the court.
Landry gave them some initial background information, then asked them to go to a separate room while he called on them one by one. He asked people to explain why they could not sit on a jury, then consulted Crown and defence lawyers, and made a decision for each one. There's a publication ban on any information about specific reasons given by potential jurors.
According to the New Brunswick Jury Act, potential jurors must be a Canadian citizen residing in New Brunswick, and over the age of 19. The act also has a list of exemptions including being an MLA, MP, lawyer, judge or spouse of a judge, peace officer, veterinarian and others.
Raymond is accused of killing Cst. Robb Costello, Cst. Sara Burns, Bobbie Lee Wright and Donnie Robichaud in a shooting on Aug. 10, 2018.
Jury selection will begin Monday and is scheduled for several days. The fitness hearing is expected to be shorter than a trial, but Justice Landry said it's impossible to predict an exact timeframe.
"Although we will never know for sure, we can foresee that it would not last for more than a few days. But since this will be the first jury selection during the pandemic of COVID-19, we can't really predict how all of this will unfold," he said.
"Instead of a few days the jury selection and trial may span for more than a week."
If Raymond is found fit, the trial on first-degree murder charges will probably begin in September, he said, and could last six weeks.
The former judge on this case, Justice Fred Ferguson, previously ruled Raymond can have the same jury for both fitness and criminal trial. If he's found fit, Raymond will have the option of keeping the jury or selecting a new one.
Because of COVID-19, and the maximum number of people that can be accommodated at the convention centre, the court had to summons fewer people than it did last time. More than 500 people were summonsed for this jury trial.
At the last fitness hearing in October, around 800 people were called, and gathered at the hockey rink at the Grant Harvey Centre.
Raymond's defence lawyer Nathan Gorham previously said he's concerned there could be a mistrial if they go through everyone who was summonsed and don't have a full jury panel. He submitted an application for the court to discuss finding a solution, including summonsing another panel to wait in the wings.
It's not clear if the judge has approved of this proposal.