Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday 7 November 2000

Judge discharges jury in murder trial

Killaloe woman accused of fatally poisoning husband

Peter Hum
The Ottawa Citizen

PEMBROKE -- Cherrylle Dell got her way yesterday when a judge discharged the jury that was to have heard the case of the 45-year-old Killaloe woman, accused of fatally poisoning her estranged husband with antifreeze.

Ontario Superior Court Justice James Chadwick sent jurors home on the day they were to begin hearing evidence. Responding to a motion by Mrs. Dell's defence lawyers, the judge ruled that he alone will determine the accused woman's guilt or innocence when her first-degree murder trial begins later this month.

Mrs. Dell is accused of killing her 44-year-old husband, Scott, who died in December 1995 after drinking a mixture of wine and antifreeze. His death was originally considered a suicide, but in December 1997 Mrs. Dell was charged with first-degree murder and has since been in custody.

"This is one of those rare and exceptional circumstances," Judge Chadwick said. "I'm sorry I'm not going to have a jury to work with."

The judge found that the Crown had committed an abuse of the legal process by suddenly deciding to call new witnesses, which would have delayed the trial and caused immense complications with the jury.

The jury had been chosen in early October only after considerable difficulty -- the judge had taken pains to cull jurors from an 800-person pool, swollen in size because of the pretrial publicity the case has generated throughout the Ottawa Valley. Crown and defence lawyers screened potential jurors for bias.

However, the lawyers argued later in October about the consequences of the Crown's latest tack in the case.

Pembroke Crown attorney Peter Barnes in late September disclosed that he plans to call additional expert witnesses, including a Toronto psychologist who is an expert in suicide.

Defence lawyers Robert Selkirk and Michael March requested that the trial be adjourned several weeks to allow them to prepare.

In response to a subsequent defence motion, Judge Chadwick ruled that the Crown's "change of direction and untimely disclosure" was an abuse of process.

The trial is further complicated because Mrs. Dell is charged with another count of first-degree murder. She is accused of instructing a teenager to set the fatal August 1997 fire that killed her former lover Nancy Fillmore, who was interviewed by police who investigated Mr. Dell's death.

Judge Chadwick noted yesterday that Mr. Barnes intends to call the teenager, who faces a separate first-degree murder trial as a young offender, as a witness in the current trial, although the two murder charges against Mrs. Dell are being heard separately.

Because of the evidentiary rulings that would likely be needed, a trial before a jury might not have begun until the new year and then run for several months. The current jurors were selected having been told that the trial would conclude in December, and to replace any or all for them could have involved drawing from another large jury pool.

Instead, the judge agreed to hear the case alone. He is to begin hearing evidence Nov. 20. The trial is to continue until Dec. 15, and then resume in Ottawa on Jan. 2.

Outside court, Mr. Selkirk said: "It (the judge's decision) means my client will get this trial on this year rather than next year.

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen