Serving on a jury has lasting impact
Thursday, Feb 09, 2017 10:28 am
The emotional impact of serving on the jury for a sensational murder trial nine years ago isn’t something Airdrie resident Kathy Ritcher said she’d soon forget.
“You had a book of evidence and photos in front of you all the time. The trial started on Monday and it was the Wednesday and we were looking at the actual photos. I will never forget that I accidently moved two pages instead of one and saw the little boy with his throat slit,” she said. “At the time, my son was the same age as this young boy and I lost it.
“Even nine years later, I can’t unsee that. There are certain dates that trigger memories. You get a little sentimental and I usually light a candle.”
Ritcher served on the jury for the first-degree murder trial of Jeremy Steinke. Steinke was 23 at the time of the 2006 murders of his then 12-year-old girlfriend’s parents and eight-year-old brother in Medicine Hat. His girlfriend, who can only be called J.R. under Canada’s Youth Justice Act, was also convicted of first-degree murder and served 10 years, four of them in a psychiatric hospital. She has since been released.
After Ritcher saw the photos of the boy, the judge asked her if she was OK and called a recess to allow her time to collect herself, she said.
“It was just horrifying,” she said. “When we got to that page and the other jurors saw what I had seen, it became very, very emotional. That was the hardest day of the trial.”
Ritcher said the jury was only officially sequestered in a downtown hotel for one night during deliberations. She chose not to read about the trial in the media.
“Sitting in that courtroom, seeing everything on a daily basis, was absolutely enough,” she said.
Steinke was present in the courtroom throughout the two-week trial, and Ritcher said he seemed mostly concerned that he not be found guilty of killing J.R.’s young brother.
“To do the damage that he did, I thought he was a very small man; very bashful and shy. He showed no remorse whatsoever until it was disclosed to the court that one of his grandparents had passed away. Then he bawled his face off. Other than that, there was no showing of any emotion whatsoever,” she said.
Ritcher said she can only imagine what the jurors in the trial of Douglas Garland, currently underway in Calgary, are going through. Garland is accused of the first-degree murders of Kathy and Alvin Liknes and their five-year-old grandson Nathan O’Brien in 2014.
“I can’t read about that trial. It’s too similar,” she said.
After the conclusion of the Steinke trial, Ritcher and her fellow jurors were offered counselling. According to Ritcher, it was the first time in Alberta the courts offered counselling to members of a jury. She ultimately decided not to take advantage of what was offered.
“The judge said we were going to be the first jurors to receive counselling because it was that horrific,” she said. “Personally, I was going through something else at the time and I didn’t have a lot of faith in counsellors. The support that I had from my soon-to-be husband and my family was enough.”
After the conclusion of the trial, Ritcher said she and her family were in Medicine Hat and she made a point of going to the home of J.R.’s family.
“I just walked back and forth and offered up prayers,” she said. “They didn’t deserve this.”
Despite the trauma it caused at the time, Ritcher said she was glad she’d been through the experience.
“It has made me value family a lot more. You never know what can happen at any moment in your life. I value my friendships, my marriage, my children – even my work. You want to ensure everyone just has a safe place. I’m a little more protective and I always tell my kids that I love them and to ‘be safe.’
“Being part of a jury that decides on someone’s life is important. At the same time, he took three lives. He actually took four, really, because he did take (J.R.’s) as well.”