August 19, 2016 - 4:16 PM
PENTICTON - The trial of a brother and sister accused of murder in Penticton will be held in Kelowna.
The trial of Grace, 64, and Pier Robotti, 65 — co-accused in the murder of Roxanne Louie — will take place in Kelowna, a judge in Penticton court decided today, Aug. 19.
Courthouse security and publicity concerns were central arguments in an application put forward by defence counsel to have the trial moved.
The Robottis are accused of killing Louie, 26, in Grace Robotti’s Penticton home on or around Jan. 4, 2015 and disposing of her body on a forest road above Naramata.
In the application brought forward by defence lawyers Don Skogstad and James Pennington on behalf of Skogstad’s client, Pier Robotti, Skogstad said the case had generated too much publicity, which would affect his client’s right to a fair trial in Penticton.
He also cited safety concerns surrounding the Penticton courthouse layout, noting the lack of secure entrances for the accused, who are currently free on bail.
Skogstad referred to the Penticton courthouse as “one of the worst courthouses in B.C. for a jury trial."
He noted the heightened interest of First Nations members in the case, which involves the murder of a First Nations' woman by the accused who are Caucasion, suggesting “prejudgment” had occurred.
Skogstad further referenced threats made against the Robottis and their lawyers, including public comments made at a rally at Gyro Park on Sept. 21.
Co-defence lawyer James Pennington argued for the public’s right to have a jury trial proceed in the jurisdiction in which the crime occurred, also acknowledging the public’s right to protest.
However, Pennington noted in this case large groups of protesters crowding the main entrance to court could have an effect “analogous to a picket line.”
Pennington also noted a recent decision not to move a trial involving four accused from Penticton due to security concerns, but said that case “was not like this one.”
Crown Prosecutor John Swanson argued for rejection of the application, saying Crown was “strenuously opposed” to moving the trial.
Swanson said the publicity given the case to date was insufficient, nor was the coverage content such that it required a change of venue, calling the media coverage “entirely professional.”
He also said there was no evidence the courthouse couldn’t handle a jury trial.
Judge S. Dev Dley asked several questions regarding security of the courtroom sheriff prior to handing down his verdict. He was satisfied security in the courtroom would be adequate.
He dismissed concerns of excessive publicity, but suggested consideration be given to scheduling of the trial, which tentatively put the start of proceedings as late as the summer of 2017 in Penticton.
Dley was primarily concerned about alleged threats made against the Robottis, including one in which the Robottis and their lawyers were told to “watch their backs.”
While rejecting the argument regarding courthouse security, Dley was concerned about the verbal threats.
“The threat of reprisal can’t be ignored, and it’s better for the court to act,” he said, ordering the trial to take place in Kelowna with the anticipation proceedings will commence at an earlier date than what could be scheduled in Penticton.
Outside the courthouse around two dozen First Nations members congregated quietly following the decision.
Spokesperson Laurie Wilson was disappointed the trial is being moved, but said the community would continue to show up and demand justice.
“It is what it is, the family and community have done a lot of work to exercise restraint when dealing with this situation, they’ve sat back and allowed the justice system to work. This kind of feels like a slap in the face to all that attempt to be positive,” she said.
Wilson also noted that even though everyone in the native community knew where the Robottis lived, no one went to their house.
“Nobody bothered either of them, that should have been an indication of the restraint shown by our community,” she said.
Wilson said one good thing about the decision to move the trial to Kelowna is it might take place sooner.
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