After the verdict: Should there be more counselling for jurors?
This week, the murder trial in the death of Tim Bosma began in Hamilton, Ontario. In May of 2013, Bosma was trying to sell his truck through an online ad. He took two strangers out for a test drive and he never returned. Two men have been charged with first degree murder.
Over the next four months, jurors will see and hear the evidence, some of it very graphic. It's a process that can take a toll on the mental health of jurors, civilians who are performing their civic duty.
There have been other notorious cases before the courts - the murder trials of Luka Magnotta, Robert Pickton and Paul Bernardo. But even the shorter trials, those less notorious, can have a long term effect on jurors.
Antheia Cooke recently served on the jury for a murder trial that only lasted three weeks. She spoke with Brent from Hamilton, Ontario.
Patrick Baillie is a psychologist with Alberta Health Services, and he's the former Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada former Mental Health and the Law Advisory Committee. He, too, would like to see more counselling provided for jurors. But he says a change to Canada's Criminal Code may also be necessary. He spoke with Brent from Calgary.
These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
Brent Bambury: When you were first chosen as a juror what did you think would happen, what did you expect would what unfold?
Antheia Cooke: I really didn't have an expectation. I guess I just thought that I would be in a trial. I wasn't even certain that it was a murder trial until the jury selection started.
BB: So during the jury selection when you were being questioned by the lawyers, did they ever say to you, this might be difficult there might be things that you might not want to hear?
AC: Not the lawyers, no. It was mostly the judge that kind of briefed us at the beginning.
BB: And how explicit was he, what did he tell you?
AC: I think he did give us a little bit of warning, but not to the extent that we might feel the need to have counselling or any anything to that degree. Just that we would be shown pictures and may hear things that were a little bit difficult.
BB: So you weren't expecting an intense experience, but the experience did become intense. What happened when when it turned the corner for you?
AC: I think … even when the first testimony started, that's when it became intense for me. But I think the turning point, really, was when we saw the autopsy photos of the victim.
BB: And what was it about those photos?
AC: Well, I just I guess I had this assumption that maybe they would have some sort of respect for the body, that they would cover up his face. And his face was not covered and I guess I was ... it was really shocking, I didn't expect ... I didn't expect it at all.
BB: We heard from one of the Bernardo jurors earlier, and she talked about the difference between real life and the things that we're used to seeing on television. Was that what it was like for you? Was was there a distinction between what you were prepared for because of watching crime drama, and what actually happened the courtroom?
AC: I definitely felt like it was not like TV. It was very real and it was just shocking. I have never seen autopsy photos, I've never seen a body like that. It definitely had a very distinct feeling for me.
BB: What was that feeling? Can you explore that for me? What happened to you?
AC: I just felt really sick to my stomach and I felt dizzy and nauseous. We did actually end up having to take a break because another juror was about to faint. So she was also having a reaction to the photo.
BB: And the principles, the accused and the family of the victim were there in court with you. Did it change your relationship with them as people sitting there in the same room with you?
AC: Yeah. It really did. I tried my best not to connect myself to that because I felt like that would make me feel even more vulnerable, but you can't help it. I would catch myself just glancing over occasionally and just a you see the pain, you feel it.. You know that they're all they're seeking their justice, you know?
BB: Right. And you'd probably never met somebody who was the family of a murder victim before.
AC: No. I was quite close to them, I could hear the mother crying and definitely without being affected by that for sure.
BB: In December, a New Brunswick jury convicted Dennis Oland of murdering his father and it was a very public trial. And when the verdict was read aloud, Mr Oland's wife turned to the jury and said "how could you do this?" So when you were sitting on the jury, were you always thinking about the fate of all of the people who were in the courtroom, that was really in your hands?
AC: Always. Always. I took it as a very serious responsibility and one that hopefully I'll never ever have to do again in my life. Yeah, it was something that affected me, every day, and still does. It's a huge responsibility to have somebody's life in your hands basically. You have to take it as seriously as you can as with anything.
BB: The case that you served on was almost three weeks long and the Bosma trial is expected to last for months. So what kind of told you think that will have on the jury members?
AC: Oh, I don't know. I think it can affect your family life, your relationships. Hopefully those jurors are able to find ways to cope and and just keep themselves sane during that time, and be able to leave what they hear and see and feel hopefully in the courtroom when they go home.
BB: Were you able to talk to anybody about what was going on with you while the trial was in progress?
AC: To a certain degree, as vague as I could be without giving anybody enter any information, but not really. My husband didn't know what trial I was on, my friends and family didn't know what trial I was on. And I think, out of respect for other jurors, we kept our conversations to a minimum because you don't want to influence anybody, or make anybody's decision for them or help them with that. So I really felt pretty isolated at that time. I really did feel isolated. I felt quite alone.
BB: That sounds hard. When the trial wrapped up, was there a transition back into your normal daily life?
AC: No, actually I was to return to work on the following day. Because we gave the verdict on the evening of a Thursday, I was to go back to work and I thought maybe that would be just the best way to do that. But I realized when I woke up in the morning, and I was pretty emotional, and I just decided that maybe that wasn't a very good idea that maybe I should just take the weekend and maybe do some other things. I went for a nice hike and just hung around with my family and tried to forget about stuff.
BB: And did you forget about it or did stuff keep coming back?
AC: No. I had dreams. While the proceedings were going on I had dreams. I had a lot of sleepless nights. And then after the fact for, I think it took me about a full month to have a good sleep where I didn't dream about something that was related to the case, or see the victim's face. Or just, you know, relive any of the proceedings or witness testimony. Yeah, it took quite a bit of time.
BB: And just this week, the night before the Bosma trial, didn't you have a dream about this case?
AC: I did! I never dreamt about be accused in my case and I did, actually the night before, I dreamt about him. He was my dream and it was pretty intense.
BB: What sort of help do you wish had been available to you?
AC: I think for any sort of trial that involves murder, or any rape, or assault or sexual assault, anything that you know … I can't imagine if this case had involved children. I mean, it did, but one that was closer to my daughter's age or something like that. I think anything where it's harming another human being or taking a life, I think that counselling should be available to you. I really do.
BB: Given what you know now, would you ever want to be a juror again?
AC: No. I think that I've done my civic duty, I really do. Yeah, I would not sit on a trial again.
BB: You say you've done your civic duty but do you wish that you never been a juror?
AC: You know, I feel like I have a better understanding of the court system. I do I understand and I can appreciate it more, the process and how a jury works. But yeah, I don't think I would ever choose to have been on a murder trial, no.
BB: Antheia Cooke thank you for talking to us.
AC: Thank you Brent.
Brent Bambury: If someone like Antheia came to you for counselling what would she be prohibited from telling you about the trial?
Patrick Baillie: Under the Criminal Code she's not allowed to tell me anything related to the deliberations of the jury. She's not allowed to tell me her personal view, therefore, of the evidence or the witnesses or the trial process. Because that could be information that relates back to what was discussed in the jury room.
BB: And that ban goes on for forever. She could never discuss that not even with a mental health professional?
PB: It is illegal to disclose the deliberation of a jury to anybody. So she can't tell a spouse and family and friends, she can't tell the people in her usual support system and she can't tell the mental health professionals that she may want to come in contact with down the road.
BB: But a counsellor or a psychologist, wouldn't they be bound to keep that information confidential?
PB: Certainly in a regulated profession like psychology we have very strict rules about confidentiality, and I think that we would be having a conversation - if the Criminal Code prohibition wasn't there - about a deeply difficult experience that somebody like that may have experienced as a result of doing your civic duty and serving on a jury.
BB: Antheia described court procedure that was traumatic, but can you give us an example of when trial deliberations might be stressful for a juror?
PB: Well typically, a case has gone to a trial because each side still believes that they have a realistic likelihood of winning. And so there are disputes about the evidence. There are disagreements about the quality of the testimony from various witnesses. And so there's an ongoing disagreement as to what the outcome should be. So then we take twelve citizens who, in effect, answered a letter that came in the mail to show up at the court on this date. These are twelve citizens who don't typically have any involvement with the system, which is why we want them to serve as jurors, being given this extraordinary task with not a whole lot of mental support.
BB: And why is that? Why isn't it obvious to the court that jurors are civilians who who might not be mentally prepared to sit through a criminal trial? Why do you think support still isn't made available to most Canadian jurors?
PB: I think that a lot of it comes down to this idea of wanting to protect the sanctity of the trial. So, 'don't talk about it while you're doing it' is because we wouldn't want somebody to respond to what you're saying of, 'wow, only a really evil person you could do something like that,' which now starts to influence your thinking, but which wasn't the evidence in the trial. And then we don't want people talking about the deliberations because there still may be issues related to appeal or to subsequent trials. And so we take a very different view than the Americans do, where in most jurisdictions, as we know from high profile cases, the jurors are on television within twenty four hours, often as a group, talking with a reporter about 'this was the piece of evidence that really tipped me,' or 'I found when this person testified to that I didn't find them to be reliable.' So the Americans believe that the jury system can still be protected despite the fact that people talk about it. Whereas the Canadian tradition has been no, we need to make sure that jurors are not identified and to make sure the process is pure is it can be.
BB: Would there be any circumstances where changing the law are around restrictions on deliberations could have unforeseen circumstances, or could compromise the integrity of the legal process?
PB: The potential is there, in that if a person was to come in to me and say 'I felt pressured, I don't believe that the person was whatever the ultimate verdict was, but I got bullied into and I'm really concerned.' Would it potentially compromise the jury system for me to have heard that information? Some might argue that it does because then I'd have an obligation to potentially do something with that information. But I think that the notion isn't of wanting to interfere with the judicial process, the notion is of wanting to provide support to our fellow citizens who are exposed to the type of information that most people don't want to spend their time looking at. Autopsy photos and hearing the details of autopsy testimony is particularly gruesome. And so I think providing support to people and finding some mechanisms that allow us to do that in a way that doesn't compromise the jury system is an important way for us to recognize that these people are taking on a responsibility. And therefore we've got a responsibility to look after them.
BB: Patrick Bailey thank you for talking to us.
PB: Thank you.