Court-room love affair puts Canadian law in a spin

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A SEXY-looking 43-year-old single mother has turned the Canadian criminal justice system on its head by allegedly seducing a man accused of participating in a gangland-style murder while she was on the jury trying him.

The man and five others were acquitted of two first-degree murder charges after a six-month trial in 1995. But last week the juror, Gillian Guess, was charged with obstructing justice as the result of her behaviour during the trial.

Authorities say there has never been a similar case in Canadian legal history and prosecutors have announced they will set another legal precedent by subpoenaing her fellow jurors and forcing them to testify about what happened in the jury room.

The prosecution contends that Guest influenced other jurors to acquit her lover and the other accused. Under Canadian law, jury deliberations are supposed to remain secret, so the case represents the first time the veil of jury secrecy will be lifted.

The case has already made history since the judge last week ordered Guess to stop writing her Diary of a Mad Juror on her personal web site. The web site carried a heading, "Off with her head", and a photograph of the queen of hearts. The web site also has a photograph of Guess looking seductively defiant and one of the topics about the trial was entitled, "The Witch Hunt."

Guess has admitted having an affair with Peter Gill, the accused, but claims their sexual relations did not begin until after the acquittal. Evidence was introduced on Friday, however, that off-duty RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officers saw the couple "squeezing and hugging" at a popular Vancouver nightclub during the first week of the trial.

Gill was on bail and not in police custody during the trail. The jury was not sequestered. Guess was well known to the Mounties because she had worked with them as a counsellor of victims.

Several court officials have testified about the "saucy looks" and other flirtatious gestures which passed between the juror and the accused during the trial. One clerk became sufficiently concerned that she spoke to the presiding judge at the original trial, who apparently did not pursue the matter.

Prosecutors have told the new trial they will be submitting wiretap evidence about calls between Guess and Gill. Police had also placed listening devices in her bedroom.

Gill, whose murder charges rose from two killings tied to the Vancouver drug trade, appears clean cut and was always well dressed in suit and tie during the trial. Asked what attracted her to him, Guess told journalists that after eight months as a juror "even the judge started looking good".

Guess also reported the judge's order to stop writing about her trial on the web site. She also complained that most media were condemning her, "heavily relying on the crime of short skirts and high heels".

The trial continues tomorrow.