Health

'It's still a nightmare': The case of jurors released with PTSD and little or no help after verdict

The evidence in particularly brutal trials can leave jurors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But in many jurisdictions across the country, jurors are simply thanked and dismissed after the verdict with little or no support to cope with what they witnessed.

Ex-jurors say free counselling should be offered to all those who fulfil civic duty

Jurors can develop post-traumatic stress disorder from their courtroom experience. (CBC)

Dan Cozine's service left him haunted by horrible memories.

He struggled to return to his normal life.

He was withdrawn at work.

He was distracted and angry at home.

His wife urged him to get help, so he found a therapist who quickly diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

But 39-year-old Cozine isn't a soldier struggling to cope with the effects of a harrowing tour of duty.

He's a principal from Regina who wasn't the same after serving as a juror on a murder trial so disturbing he says veteran police officers testified in tears.

Dan Cozine was diagnosed with PTSD after serving on a jury for a fatal child abuse case. (CBC)

Two foster parents were accused of abusing and neglecting two little girls in their care. The four-year-old died of severe malnutrition and her two-year-old sister barely survived.

A picture of the younger sister haunts Cozine to this day.

"You would think it would be autopsy photos of a four-year-old girl, but there was a close-up of the two-year-old's face and you could feel how … painful it was for her," he says. "Wasn't a lot of injuries shown in that picture … but sadness and being tired and overwhelmed and a two-year-old not understanding."

'It seemed really archaic'

Two days after the trial ended, Cozine says he went back to work but wasn't himself.

Cozine and his wife Vanessa don't have children. He calls his students his kids. But he felt either unusually withdrawn from them or hyper-vigilant about their safety.

It was clear to Vanessa that he needed help. She says it's shocking the courts in Saskatchewan simply abandon jurors like her husband.

"It seemed really archaic given today's society and awareness around mental health," she says. "It just seems unreal. There seems to be a lack of recognition of the effect on these people when they leave the courtroom."

It was clear to Vanessa Cozine that her husband Dan needed help after his jury duty. (CBC)

But that's the stark reality in most of the country. Ordinary Canadians are required by law to fulfil their civic duty — a duty that comes with little preparation and, in most cases, little support once the trial is over. Most jurors are simply thanked for their time and dismissed.

That's exactly what happened to Toronto's Mark Farrant. The 44-year-old market researcher says his life was destroyed after he developed PTSD while serving on a murder trial more than two years ago.

There seems to be a lack of recognition of the effect on these people when they leave the courtroom.- Vanessa Cozine

As he continues to struggle with the condition, Farrant has become the leader of an advocacy campaign to get jurors the help they need. The Facebook page he created to give jurors across the country a voice caught Cozine's attention and let him know he isn't alone.

Farrant says he didn't know what to expect when he was summoned for jury duty. He served on the trial of Farshad Badakhshan, who was accused and ultimately convicted of murdering his 23-year-old girlfriend, Carina Petrache.

Mark Farrant, 44, of Toronto says his life was destroyed after he developed PTSD while on jury duty. (CBC)

He says the horrific loop of evidence still lurks in the shadows of his mind, ready to come into focus.

It includes autopsy photos of the young woman stabbed repeatedly, her throat slit and burns on her body from being trapped in a room Badakhshan had set ablaze. And testimony of how she managed to crawl out, gasping for help as she was bleeding to death.

"You might read about it in a crime novel, but this is a real person, this is a real victim," Farrant says.

The images stayed with him after the trial ended. He says there were flashbacks and nightmares followed by a gnawing sense of dread that left him sleeping on the floor of his children's bedroom with a knife.

At his family's urging, he reached out for help.

'A dull silence'

The first place he called was the courthouse.

"Because clearly they would have somebody that I could talk to, obviously this happens all the time," Farrant says. "That's when, you know, there was sort of a dull silence on the end of the phone. It became clear there wasn't a body that dealt with jurors."

Christopher Speyer, a retired Ontario Superior Court judge who served 30 years on the bench, says adding to the problem is trials today are often longer and the evidence more graphic.

"Exposure by jurors to acts of depravity may very well have a serious emotional effect on a juror," he says. "All people are different. And on some it would have very little impact. And on others it would have a dramatic impact."

Retired Ontario judge Christopher Speyer says longer and more graphic trials are two reasons some jurors are being diagnosed with PTSD. (CBC)

Support for jurors varies across the country. New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Saskatchewan don't have policies for helping jurors — although Cozine's Prairie province is developing one. Alberta is currently the only province that has a helpline and automatically offers free counselling to those who need it.

In provinces like Nova Scotia, Quebec and, until recently, Ontario, judges can order counselling for jurors, but those orders are rare and some have criticized the level of care.

In B.C., if at least six members of a jury request help, they can receive one debriefing session with a psychologist.

A juror who served on a high-profile murder case in 2012 took the Ontario government to court to demand compensation because she said the counselling the trial judge ordered amounted to little more than relaxation exercises.

The juror, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, needed help after sitting through Michael Rafferty's trial for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford of Woodstock, Ont.

The trial of one of Victoria Stafford's killers left one juror in need of help and ultimately unsatisfied with the level of care the court offered. (Canadian Press)

The province settled with her out of court and went further, announcing it would set up a helpline and offer free counselling to jurors who feel they need it. The new policy is expected to be in place at the end of the month.

'I'm not well'

Farrant helped push Ontario to provide more support for jurors, but it's not clear if the new policy will be retroactive and benefit him in any way.

He says he's heard from dozens of traumatized jurors through his Facebook page and is writing every attorney general in Canada to urge them to follow the lead of Alberta and Ontario.

"There should be no juror looking over the fence and saying, 'Well, why do they have services and we don't or I don't?'"

Farrant says he's writing every attorney general in Canada to urge them to follow Ontario and Alberta's lead and offer free counselling to jurors who need it. (CBC)

He says his advocacy work has been a welcome reprieve from an illness that's cost him so dearly.

He's been able to keep working, but says his work insurance only covers a fraction of his weekly therapy sessions. It's been financially crippling, he says. He won't speak about his home life other than to say it's shattered.

"It's still a nightmare. I'm not well."

About the Author

Ioanna Roumeliotis

Senior Reporter

There is always a deeply human story behind every issue. From reporting on serial killers to the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, the best journalism gets the facts and tells that story. @ioannacbc on Twitter