Pubdate: Fri, 26 Jan 2007
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2007 The StarPhoenix
Author: John Gormley


After the second-degree murder conviction a week ago of Kim Walker, 
the dad who gunned down a 24-year-old drug dealer living with his 
16-year-old daughter, many Saskatchewanians are speaking out.

We fielded dozens of calls on my radio show. Most were sympathetic to 
Walker, while others saw this as a man taking the law into his own 
hands and literally playing judge, jury and executioner.

Like the divided moral debate over farmer Robert Latimer killing his 
disabled daughter, the cases are similar because they involve 
discussion about juries and they illustrate that ordinary people 
sitting on juries don't know enough about the unique powers of jurors 
in a criminal trial.

Jury members do not have to convict, even in the face of overwhelming 
evidence. They can choose to set aside the law.

The Supreme Court of Canada put it this way: "Juries are not entitled 
as a matter of right to refuse to apply the law -- but they do have 
the power to do so when their consciences permit no other course."

Three hundred years ago, jurors who made decisions disagreeable to 
the judge could find themselves in the Star Chamber, punished by jail 
or worse. Today no one can punish a juror or even find out what 
happens in the jury deliberations, assuming there's nothing illegal 
like jury tampering.

But while jurors have this remarkable power, the law prevents anyone 
in the courtroom from telling them they have it.

Jury members cannot be told that they can refuse to apply the law -- 
they just have to figure it out themselves. So, as a lesson for an 
informed populace, if you ever serve on a jury -- know this!

In reinforcing this power, the Supreme Court recently reiterated that 
the verdict must always be that of the jury, not the judge -- unless 
the judge directs the jury to acquit because of insufficient evidence.

But the opposite is not true. Even with overwhelming evidence, a 
judge cannot direct a verdict of guilty. That is the jury's job alone.

In the Walker trial, Justice Jennifer Pritchard directed the jury to 
convict Walker of at least the offence of manslaughter. Whether this 
error of law will warrant a new trial for Walker is up to the 
Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. The Walker family faces an expensive 
legal appeal and a second trial, if one is ordered.

Supporters have set up a legal defence trust fund at the Yorkton 
branch of Scotiabank in Walker's name and donations can be made at 
any Scotiabank branch.

The website also answers a number of questions 
about this controversial case.
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