And so the actual trial part of the Tim Bosma trial finally begins on Monday — 1001 days after Tim Bosma disappeared, 997 days after Dellen Millard was arrested and 985 days after Mark Smich was arrested.
Both Dellen Millard and Mark Smich are pleading not guilty to first degree murder of Tim Bosma, and it goes without saying that none of the allegations against them have yet been proven in court. They are innocent until proven guilty.
It should not take this long for a case to get to trial, but, in Ontario, most murders aren’t tried until two years after charges are laid. This places a tremendous burden on both the family of the victim and the accused as well. Witnesses are also affected as memories fade, a dark cloud looms endlessly over them, and sometimes people even die.
That’s no excuse for this type of delay. By way of comparison, the Boston Marathon bombing took place on April 15, 2013, the month before Tim Bosma was killed. It was both a hugely complex, terrorism-related investigation and a death penalty case to boot, yet the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev began on March 4, 2015 and ended with a verdict on April 8, 2015. It was quite exceptional in the US where murder cases are almost always tried within a year, as they should be in Canada too.
After watching Justice Andrew Goodman handle the pre-trial motions and jury selection in the Bosma case, I’ve decided he may just be the man to help fix the oh-so-slow Ontario criminal justice system. He took over as the trial judge in October 2015 after the well respected Justice Stephen Glithero fell sick and had to step down.
Justice Goodman got up to speed on the complicated case almost immediately, kept the knotty pre-trial motions on schedule, and arranged the jury selection so it ran like a well oiled machine for six days starting on January 18th. He had calculated and allotted an average of 90 seconds for each prospective juror, coordinated all the various jury panels, and even arranged a Plan B should a flu bug sweep through the chosen jurors before opening statements. The lead prosecutor Tony Leitch said after day one of the process that he had never seen jury selection move so fast.
By way of another comparison, when I was last present for what was supposed to be jury selection in Superior Court in Toronto earlier this year, the trial had to be delayed for two days because there was no jury panel available. I was told this was not unusual. There used to be too many jury panels brought in on Mondays, and prospective jurors complained about the waste of time sitting around. The “fix” was to cut the number of Monday panels across the board regardless of how many trials were scheduled to start on the first day of any given week. As a result, there were now sometimes too few panels on Mondays and trials were getting delayed. This kind of problem is all part and parcel of why the justice system in Ontario is so bogged down and why trials don’t happen within a reasonable time framework. (If only Uber’s inventors would turn their attention to the courts.)
Which brings me to Tim Bosma’s family, who have had to wait almost three years for this trial to begin. In the face of all these delays, they have been amazingly stoic — and, on occasion, cheerful. On December 18, the last day of the pre-trial motions,Tim’s father Hank shook hands with many of the lawyers, police officers and reporters present, and wished everyone Merry Christmas. He and his wife Mary were smiling and outwardly happy despite the senseless tragedy they have lived through. This, I thought to my atheist self, must be what it’s like to have the kind of faith they have.
When I see the Bosmas, I always think back to something the police officer in charge of this case said when he was asked, back in May 2013 by a reporter, what it was like to break the news of Tim’s murder to his family. “As the leader of my team, I think that’s my job to do the hard jobs, and it was a very hard job to notify the family of a loved one,” Detective Sergeant Matt Kavanagh of the Hamilton Police said. “I’m sorry for the Bosma family. I have no idea what they’re experiencing right now.”
Throughout the jury selection process, the Bosmas kept to themselves, more than they had during pre-trial motions, although Hank Bosma did come over when I was chatting with Molly Hayes, a Hamilton Spectator reporter, to thank her and her colleague Susan Clairmont for their articles about the opening of the trial.
Monday, the evidence portion of the trial, finally begins. Whether the Crown will give a long opening statement or just a short one and jump right into calling witnesses remains to be seen, as does who the first witnesses will be.
A number of people have asked me if they can attend the case and the answer is yes. The trial will take place in the John Sopinka courthouse’s biggest courtroom, which can hold about 100 onlookers. There’s also a special overflow courtroom, which will have a video feed.
Going to court is fascinating, and I would definitely recommend it if you’re at all curious. It’s also like time travelling back to my elementary school days, before a lot of the old rules got thrown out. You must, for example, stand up when the judge enters and departs. And there’s absolutely no gum chewing, coffee drinking, or even reading glasses on your head. While no one sings God Save the Queen like we used to have to do in grade school, there are references aplenty to Our Sovereign Lady.
Court is traditional and sometimes even ceremonial. More surprisingly, the jury selection process for this case — which ran from January 18 through to January 25 — was quite inspirational. Even though we were all present for a horrible reason, there was something uplifting about seeing so many citizens trekking through — some carrying parkas, some still wearing their coats — and saying they were “willing and able” to spend four months of their lives on a jury for a first degree murder trial.
It was almost but not quite enough to make me forget that it had taken 1,001 days to get to the opening statements slated for February 1, 2016, and that justice delayed can sometimes be justice denied for both the victims and the accused.
Throughout the trial I will be providing regular updates, including the occasional tweet, as I work on my upcoming book on the Tim Bosma case. You can follow my Twitter feed or sign up for my newsletter.
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