The details of a murder trial that started in Regina this week are going to be kept behind the walls of the Court of Queen’s Bench for nearly four months due to a publication ban.
It was an almost empty courtroom Wednesday morning when Joshua Wilson, 26, Dennis Thompson, 34, and Jonathan Peepeetch, 25, walked into the prisoner’s box to start their murder trial.
Wilson is the tallest and was wearing a bright orange prison sweatshirt with longer hair, Thompson was wearing a grey sweatshirt with short hair and Peepeetch stepped into the courtroom wearing a white t-shirt and carrying a notebook. All three of the men wear glasses.
The faces of all three remained neutral as the jury was brought in and given instructions then almost immediately dismissed so the Crown lawyers and the three accused, who are representing themselves, could work out some details.
That’s the extent of what can be reported in the trial, as a wide publication ban has been issued for all of the evidence presented.
Wilson, Thompson and Peepeetch are among six people charged with first-degree murder in the death of Shawn Roderick Douglas, 54, in 2014. Police were called to Quebec Street in August 2014 when a witness saw what police called a non-responsive person being put into a vehicle. Douglas’ body was found in a rural area north of the city soon after.
The two alleged young offenders will start their trial two weeks after this one is scheduled to finish in November, and another man, Aiden Anaquod, 20, will be put on trial in January.
James Fitz-Gerald, Crown prosecutor in the case, said the ban is to protect the two later trials.
“The concern specifically was that the jury pool would learn about the offense through publication of the evidence and might come to a predetermined conclusion about the events and circumstances,” explained Crown prosecutor Fitz-Gerald. “That’s not fair to either the Crown or to the accused in the other proceedings. The accused and the Crown, we believe, are entitled to a jury who’s going to listen to the evidence that they hear at the trial and not have predeterminations.”
Fitz-Gerald said the veracity of the witness testimony was also a concern, which is why they will not be allowed to stay in court once they testify.
“We want people to testify as to their personal knowledge, not from something they might have heard or read in the news or seen in the newspaper, heard on the radio.”
It won’t be until the jury is sequestered in the final trial in January that the evidence can come out.
Fitz-Gerald explained the trials were separated because youths can’t be tried with adults and Anaquod was charged on a separate indictment.
He agreed having three trials spread over five months lengthens things out for Douglas’ family.
“I don’t wish that on them, but again, this is a serious offense, a serious crime, that we’re alleging, and I think that it needs to be dealt with appropriately.”
A seventh man was also originally charged with first-degree murder, however the charge was stayed, Fitz-Gerald wasn’t willing to say why.