Gift of Shopmate causes mistrial

Jury's Gift to Judge on 'National Homebuilder's Day'

By Scott Upchuk

ST. JOHN'S (NP)   A judge had declared a mistrial in a murder case because about halfway through the trial, the jury gave the judge a Shopmate Table Saw.  The Judge said that the gift might be construed as attempting to influence the administration of justice. 

Before the trial got underway, Justice Alvin McDonald had warned the jury that they should have no contact with the accused before they brought down their verdict. Then last Thursday, in the fifth week of the trial and before the day's proceedings got underway, a Shopmate Table Saw with a 10" blade was awaiting him on the bench. The saw, tied with a broad yellow ribbon, had a note attached. The note said:  "This is for Your Honour's Personal Use a gift from the jurors on National Homebuilder's Day"

In his ruling, Judge McDonald said, "I thank the jury and I sure like the gift because I'm about to put a new deck on my home. Nevertheless, the jury must see that under the circumstances giving such gifts could  be seen as prejudicial. I therefore I have no choice but to declare a mistrial."

The case to be tried before Justice McDonald had attracted little attention before the saw gift incident. John Firwood, a sawmill owner in the tiny Newfoundland community of Widow's Tits, had allegedly pushed his partner through a tree de-limber machine after an argument. Accused of second-degree murder, the accused's trail was into its fifth week and was expected to wrap up after a short recesssion in observence of the community's annual National Homebuilder's Day. Ninety percent of Widow's Tits' citizens  are employed at the accused's sawmill and twelve of its citizens were chosen as jurors at the sawmill owner's trial.

Edwina Nicholson, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice Canada, said it was clear the jurors had not thought through the implications of their actions. She said it might seem odd to declare a mistrial over such a thing as a table saw, but there were larger issues to consider.  Speaking for the defence, Lofty Brace, argued the opposite, saying the gift was a meaningless gesture. Mr. Brace said, "National Homebuilder's Day is like Christmas in Widow's Tits. It's a time for celebration. You can't blame the citizens whose livelihood depends on the bounty of the forests for being exuberant and in their enthusiasm wanting to bestow a small gift on the judge."

But the judge, reluctantly, disagreed. Citing in his decision that while he could in no way be influenced by such a trivial gift, the public could view it as misconduct. Mr. Firwood who remains free on bail will be re-arraigned on the murder charge on May 1. A new trial will likely be held this fall.

Scott Upchuk, Notional Pest, with files from The St. John's Telegram