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Graphic cases trigger nightmares, stress in jurors

After almost a year, seven men and five women who are deciding Pickton's fate will have to figure out how to return to their lives

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Tina Daenzer had nightmares for years after the trial of Paul Bernardo.

As part of the jury that spent four months listening to horrifying evidence, including videotapes of the sadistic man's crimes, she remembers every detail of the case, whether she wants to or not.

"Even today, I could probably tell you verbatim what was on most of those videos," she said.

But Ms. Daenzer said she and the other jurors were helped by counselling offered to them through the court, allowing them to talk to a professional about what they had heard and to learn how to move on.

"If I called right now and said I'm having flashbacks, I bet they would say, 'Okay, go see that guy again,' " she said. "They equated it to post traumatic stress."

The men and women who are deliberating on the fate of Robert Pickton will not be provided with the same service. While the families of victims in the case are being offered counselling, both at the courthouse and in their communities, jury members must pursue their own psychological assistance.

"The sheriff's department has a standard procedure for trials of this nature," said Mark Jan Vrem, spokesman for the court services branch of the B.C. Ministry of the Attorney-General. "They advise the jurors that if they feel they need counselling, they should consult their family physician."

Tasked with examining gruesome evidence and deliberating on a person's fate, jurors often experience problems after the verdict is read.

Scott Sundby, a Virginia-based law professor and author of A Life and Death Decision, a book about jurors, said many have nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia and, in cases involving a sexual element, problems with their personal lives.

"There are generally a group of jurors on any trial that has lasted this long which is going to have some trouble transitioning back," he said. "They have been exposed to a world that many of them probably could not even dream of even if they watch CSI religiously."

Some are so affected by the nature of what they see and hear that they , become hyper-vigilant about personal safety.

In one case he studied, several jurors cut up their ATM cards after hearing how a victim was kidnapped and killed while using a bank machine.

Another juror could not rid himself of the image of the victim's head, which had been hidden inside a plastic bag of a particular grocery store.

"Several years later he saw someone carrying one of those bags and it just all came back," Mr. Sundby said. "Hearing and seeing this kind of evidence can be really traumatic."

Beyond the nature of the evidence, many jurors are thrown by the abrupt end to the routine of daily court proceedings.

The Pickton trial has lasted almost a year, keeping jurors from their jobs, their families and their regular lives.

"Some jurors will say it's odd to go back to the real world," Mr. Sundby said. "Even if you thought the person was guilty, it's a lot of responsibility to put on an individual."

Dr. Clare Pain, a Toronto psychiatrist specializing in psychological trauma, said that experiencing crime, even second hand as part of a jury, can result in a loss of innocence.

"We all know there are horrible people in the world, but somehow we live in delusion," she said. "When you have to hear the evidence, and you have to concentrate on it, you may have that delusion shattered. You know it exists in ways other people don't."

But rather than get carried away by the despair of what they have seen, jurors must be congratulated for playing a role in justice, she said, and taught to integrate their experience in a healthy way.

"Being upset by this is a normal response and we should honour that," she said. "I would suggest that they've taken this brave and highly responsible step to be jury members and they don't have to take it home with them."

Ms. Daenzer said it was difficult not being able to discuss the Bernardo trial with family and friends, and that the other jurors became the only people who understood her after the trial was done.

In the months following Bernardo's guilty verdict, the jury got together often for dinner, she said, and spoke on the phone.

But now, years later, the nightmares have receded and she no longer talks to anyone from the trial.

"It phases off, because you really have nothing in common with that person other than that one experience," she said. "Everybody was very supportive, so it was just trying to let it go, bit by bit."

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