Guess Guilty of Obstruction

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on July 1, 1998. Partner content is not updated.

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on July 1, 1998. Partner content is not updated.

Guess Guilty of Obstruction

Gillian Guess still does not get it. For all her education - two bachelor of arts degrees and postgraduate studies in law and psychology - and an unshrinking regard for herself as a strong-minded "intellectual," the 43-year-old, twice-divorced North Vancouver mother of two still does not seem to understand why so much fuss has been made over her torrid love affair with a defendant in a murder trial in which she was a juror.

Her best friend and her sister both tried to tell her. After Guess confided to them during the 1995 trial that she was having sex with a man charged with two gang-related slayings, both advised Guess to either get off the jury or stop seeing Peter Gill, 10 years her junior. Instead, she remained on the jury until the trial ended - in acquittal for Gill and five other accused. Late last week, another B.C. Supreme Court trial brought the point home even more forcefully, finding Guess guilty of attempting to "obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice" by having the affair. Less than an hour later, Guess, meeting reporters outside the courthouse, insisted: "I have been convicted for falling in love and nothing more. I have not committed a crime."

That is not quite how the jury in her own trial saw it. And it was certainly not the picture painted by six weeks of testimony and evidence. Guess (a surname she assumed after her second divorce) first met Gill in February, 1995, when she was selected to serve on a jury trying six men on charges of killing two brothers in what prosecutors said was a bloody rivalry over drug-dealing turf. Almost immediately, Guess was drawn to one of the defendants, a stocky, cocky and darkly handsome younger man. "My attraction to him was a complete intoxication," she confided later to her 15-year-old daughter, Alana, whom she calls "Sis," in a conversation taped by police and entered as evidence against her. "I got to the point," she said, "where I couldn't see straight. It just became an obsession."

It did not take Gill long to pick up on Guess's interest. Within days of the start of the trial, Gill recorded in his diary: "I have the feeling somebody's watching me." Later, he wrote: "She's still making eye contact." In fact, Guess's openly flirtatious glances at Gill shocked veteran court staff. "She would flip her hair and look seductive," testified Emma Hyde, a court clerk in Gill's trial. "She'd smile almost coyly. It was very unusual."

As the murder trial dragged on from winter into spring and then into summer, the weather got hotter - and so did the affair. The married Gill and unattached Guess exchanged phone calls, met surreptitiously, and, during a walk in Stanley Park, finally kissed. In July, with the murder trial continuing, Guess revealed the extent of her involvement with Gill to her older sister. "She told me the attraction had turned into a sexual relationship," Vanessa Bryan testified. Guess also confided her secret to another friend, Cynthia Hayes, who testified she and Guess "had two or three conversations specifically about him sleeping with her" during Gill's trial. Both Hayes and Bryan, and at least one other friend, urged Guess to break off the affair, or get off the jury. "It seemed to me a thing she shouldn't be doing," Bryan recalled.

But when the trial finally ended in October, Guess was still on the jury. In the closed jury room, according to unprecedented testimony from nine of her fellow jurors (normally banned by law from discussing what goes on during deliberations), Guess was intimidating and inflexible, demanding acquittal for Gill and his fellow defendants. "I found her closed-minded, confrontational and not interested in other people's opinions," testified one former juror, Kelly Cowan. According to another, Deirdre Fitz-Gibbons, Guess "was determined that they were all not guilty from Day 1. If you did not agree with her opinion, heaven help you." Added Fitz-Gibbons: "We were a predominantly white jury judging non-white defendants. She implied if we found them guilty, we were racists." After a week of acrimonious debate, the jury voted unanimously to acquit all six defendants on all counts in the two murders.

It took 14 hours for the six men and six women sitting in judgment over Guess to reach an opposite conclusion in her case. Their guilty verdict, delivered to a standing-room-only public gallery, brought an end to one of the most-watched trials in B.C. history and is likely to bolster arguments that Crown lawyers will make before the B.C. Court of Appeal later this year, seeking leave to retry Gill and three of his co-accused for the murders in separate 1994 shootings of brothers Ranjit and Jimsher Dosanjh.

Guess remains free, awaiting a sentencing hearing scheduled for Aug. 20. The law provides a maximum of 10 years in prison for an attempt to obstruct justice - but no minimum penalty. Guess could receive no more than probation, if her conviction stands (in the immediate aftermath of the trial, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie refused to speculate about the likelihood of an appeal). Noting Guess's unrepentant attitude, though, Crown counsel Joe Bellows said he would press for "a period of incarceration."

Not even that chilly prospect seemed capable of denting Guess's ironclad self-assurance. Striding towards her post-trial encounter with the media, she joked to a friend: "I thought I was going to jail today, so I brought my makeup bag." Moments later, she asked reporters: "How can I feel remorse for a crime I didn't commit?"

Maclean's July 1, 1998