The girl couldn't help it

Did juror Gillian Guess obstruct justice when she had an

affair with the accused murderer?

"I'VE HAD vaccinations that have lasted longer." Not exactly what you expect to hear from a woman describing her first sexual encounter with the man she fantasised about for months, but then Gillian Guess is anything but your standard, sentimental romantic.

In fact, she is more of your hard-core romantic, a drama queen worthy of a soap opera, which is why her sentencing on Monday in Vancouver on charges of obstruction of justice made such a perfect end to her story.

Guess, 43, is the first juror in North America to be convicted of having an affair with an accused murderer during a trial. Her liaison with defendant Peter Gill, 32, on trial for the 1995 gangland murders and subsequently acquitted, just earned her 18 months in prison.

Prosecutors alleged that Guess's jury-box affair with Gill secured his freedom. Guess, who admitted to their relationship, insists that her sexual obsession with the defendant did not influence her vote as a juror.

For the past six months Canadians have been living with the tabloid exploits of Gillian Guess and Peter Gill and the tawdry affair will no doubt continue to loom large. How could it not? There are still book deals to sign, interviews to conduct, movie scripts to write and a personal website - entitled Off With Her Head - to maintain. Even as she was led away from court, the blonde with a penchant for short, tight skirts didn't waste an opportunity to compose some dialogue for the forthcoming television movie.

"I have not committed a crime," she said valiantly. "I fell in love, nothing more. My whole life has been ruined. My whole life has been violated."

To Gill, a drug dealer tried with five others in 1995 for the murder of brothers Ron and Jimmy Dosanjh during a cocaine turf war on Vancouver streets, the English-born Guess - who moved to Canada when she was two - was known initially as "chick number one". He spotted her on the first day of his trial and she, evidently, spotted him right back.

The twice-divorced mother of two, who worked as a counsellor for the Canadian police, became infatuated with Gill, whom she initially mistook for a lawyer because of his well-cut suit. As her infatuation with him took hold, it spilled over from fantasy to reality. Jurors and court workers watched with horror as she flirted with Gill from the jury box. "She keeps staring at me big time," he wrote in his diary, and he in turn responded. She says he told her later that he had been following her "from day one".

"Miss Guess would flip her hair, look over at him and kind of smile," the court clerk Emma Hyde testified at Guess's trial. "There was more happening than her assessing the accused." You can say that again. Police have since revealed that Gill, who was out on bail and therefore free to come and go, met Guess a number of times before a fully-fledged affair began.

You don't need to be a regular viewer of LA Law to know that communication, let alone sex, between jurors and defendants is hardly encouraged by the courts.

When the verdict came down, Gill was acquitted. Prosecutors and police, who had suspected for some time that the juror and the suspect were having an affair, immediately began tailing the couple. Police recorded an incredible 18,000 phone calls and numerous sexual encounters - reportedly more exciting than Guess's account of the initial liaison.

When she was confronted, Guess admitted she had fallen in love with Gill - swept up, she said, on a tide of emotion, even though Gill was actually nothing like the fantasy she envisioned. (That's criminals for you, so unreliable.) She said he was often rough and crude, but she was smitten.

She invoked the girl-can't-help-it defence: she understood her responsibility as a juror and denied that her feelings for Gill ever influenced the outcome of the trial. But, faced with a mountain of evidence, the prosecution felt otherwise and charged the actress-model with obstruction of justice. Though her sister testified that Guess had always previously sought out relationships with upright citizens - a surgeon, a construction worker, a fireman, an ex-pro football player - the other jurors broke their silence and sealed her fate. One revealed that Guess "made it evident early on how she was going to vote and she was biased in that direction."

Gill also appeared to indicate the direction he was going in when, after Guess's conviction, he reportedly dropped her. Despite diary entries and tape recordings to the contrary, Gill insists that they never had sex.

The beauty of Guess's case is that while it made tabloid reporters foam at the mouth, it is neither unique nor extreme. The Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh - imprisoned for the rest of his life - fields marriage proposals every week. The Beverly Hills rich kid Lyle Menendez, convicted of murdering his parents, married Anna Eriksson, a court-room fan, in prison in 1996.

Guess is in fine company. In 1993, juror Debra Ann Voth married the inmate she had helped convict of murder. She and Louie Villalba exchanged vows in Calipatria State Prison in California before the groom was strip-searched and returned to his cell. Voth, a mortgage banker, was among 12 jurors who convicted Villalba of killing Ronald Louis Brown in 1990. Following the trial in 1991, Voth said she wanted to help rehabilitate Villalba and began visiting him and paying for correspondence courses.

In true romantic tradition, she fell in love with him and divorced her husband of 10 years to marry him. Not to be outdone, in 1996 Jeraldine Vorhis, a corrections officer at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Oklahoma, married the inmate John Crosson, a convicted murderer who was serving life without parole. She met him when he was transferred from another prison to alleviate overcrowding. "I really don't know how it happened," she said. "This was just an attraction, and we took it from there."

Sheila Isenberg, author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill suggests that the attraction is due to a magnetic mix of danger and unrequited passion, playing out the fantasy of good girl meets bad boy. Isenberg suggests that women fall for criminals because the emotion and passion exist in such a heightened state.

Because the relationship is forbidden, it is never reduced to the daily predictability of a garden variety relationship.

For Gillian Guess, who is already appealing against her conviction, Peter Gill was her passport to adventure after two broken marriages.

"What the hell where you thinking?" Guess was asked in a television interview recently.

"I wasn't thinking," she said. "Was it wrong? Morally? Ethically? Absolutely. But I still don't think it was criminal."

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