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Gillian Guess

She's blinded by passion

After having an affair with an accused murderer, Peter Gill, while sitting on the jury for his trial, Gillian Guess now faces jail time

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful tryst,
"That started in provincial court and led to grinding hips, ..."
"Now this is a tale of her judgment day, she might serve a long, long time,
"She'd have to dress in prison clothes, made by Calvin Klein, ...
"So join us here each day my friend, you're sure to get a smile,
"With sex and bites and negligees, here at Gilliiaaaaaaaan's trial,"
-- sung to the tune of Gilligan's Isle.

Gillian Guess

VANCOUVER - The song's not getting much airplay now that the circus has all but left town. But up until the recent conviction of Gillian Guess, it was a mainstay of one local morning show.

When the 43-year-old bombshell heard about it, in typical Guess fashion, she called the radio station directly to ask for a copy. Far from being embarrassed, she found it quite funny.

But then, what's a little song when you're already famous for being the juror who did the dirty with the accused? During the trial?

"What the hell were you thinking?" she was asked in a TV interview this week. Later, over dinner, she attempts to clarify.

"I wasn't thinking," she says. "That's my answer.

"Was it wrong? Morally? Ethically? Absolutely. But I still don't think it was criminal."

With that answer, Guess is telling the truth, but not the whole truth. She was thinking about whether she should be sleeping with accused murderer Peter Gill during his trial. She was thinking about it a lot.

Mainly, she was thinking that she might be in a lot of trouble if they got caught. The evidence of these thoughts can be found in the titles of the books she still keeps on the first-floor landing of her North Vancouver home.

There is every published work she could find on the duties of the juror in the criminal justice system. Nowhere could she find the admonishment, thou shalt not fall in love.

At first glance, Guess' townhouse complex looks like all the others in the area, clean and cookie-cutter cute. A closer inspection, however, reveals it's worn around the edges, with aging cars in the driveways and large numbers of kids in the street. It turns out the units are subsidized on a sliding scale and, as an unemployed single mother of two teenagers, Guess is at the bottom end.

Her private life is in sharp contrast with her public persona. Although much has been made about her champagne taste in tight-fitting clothes and glamorous sunglasses, considerably less has been mentioned about how the three of them are surviving in that tiny, cluttered environment on $1,000 a month in child support from her second husband. (She refuses to apply for welfare.) Her clothes are hand-me-downs from well-to-do friends or else carefully culled from consignment shops. Her hairstyle -- now dyed the shade "innocent red" -- came free courtesy of the publicity around her trial. Legal aid is paying for her defence. She has absolutely no savings and no job prospects. And on Aug. 20, she may be going to jail.

It is a decided downturn from a few years ago when she started work on her MA in criminology at Simon Fraser University. Then there were student loans and a part-time job with the RCMP, in addition to the child support. (Her undergraduate degrees in psychology and socioanthropology helped snag the job counselling crime victims.) When she got a notice in April '95 calling her to jury duty, she thought it would dovetail with her studies. And when she saw the jury pool was in Courtroom 55, she became excited because her birthday is May 5, 1955. "When double fives come up, I think something's going to happen."

And something did. Her eyes fell on a well-dressed handsome man sitting at one of the tables and she felt "an instant attraction." At first, she assumed Peter Gill was a lawyer and only later learned the truth. Gill, now 32, was one of the six men on trial, accused of the gangland slayings of two local brothers with links to organized crime.

As the trial wore on, that attraction grew. But love wasn't blind in this case; it was a mirror. Guess looked at Peter Gill and what she thought was love was actually a reflection of her own fantasies and desires.

Through the first three months of the trial, Guess obsessed on Peter Gill. Since he was out on bail, she encountered him frequently, one time passing him so closely she became intoxicated by his scent.

"I started to really romanticize that he was a victim," she says.

To pass the long hours in court, she began to experiment with non-verbal communication, trying to send him messages through eye contact and body language.

Soon, she began to see him everywhere, in the lineup at McDonald's, in the places where she parked her car, in the square where she ate her lunch. Awash in good feelings, she chose to see these encounters as happy accidents; not evidence of stalking. And if he was waiting for the right moment to make a move as it turned out, he didn't have too long to wait.

Guess' weekend job was proving to be difficult. At the beginning of May, she was called upon to counsel a woman whose estranged husband threatened to kill both her and her two children. Six weeks later, he made good on part of his promise, bludgeoning the kids with an axe, killing one and leaving the other severely brain-damaged. Guess, who identified strongly with the woman because their children were the same age, unravelled at the news. Her attempts to talk it through with her boss, her friends, her mother, even her ex-husband, were unsuccessful. At 1 a.m. the phone rang and it was Peter Gill. "I heard what happened," he said. "Do you want to talk?"

To say that Gillian Guess is vulnerable is accurate but an understatement. While her harshest detractors paint her as a publicity hound who is savoring the spotlight, the flipside is that her brazen sexuality masks a cry for attention, a deep neediness which cannot be assuaged. According to Guess, her childhood in Britain was free from abuse and relatively happy. She describes her father as a "majorly handsome" man who ruled the roost while her mother was the dutiful wife. All that came apart at age 11, when her distant father suddenly left his wife and four kids for a much younger woman.

"He gave up everything for love," says Guess. "I idolized him."

After he left, her mother began to drink.

While she insists there was nothing extraordinary in the family dynamic, it was an environment where the children chose not to linger. One sibling left at 15 and has been out of touch for many years while Guess herself moved out at 16 to first live with, then marry, an older man. It failed and she married again, this time to a man a dozen years older. When their children were small, he took a job in Saudi Arabia where Guess willingly embraced the stringent dress code for women. (It was the constant exposure to the bright sun there that made her eyes so sensitive, she says, and that's why she sports her trademark black sunglasses.)


When that marriage fell apart at 35, she was on her own for the very first time and was anxious to begin to live. She discarded her married name and rejected her maiden one, settling on the surname "Guess." (That's because, explains son Adam, when people ask her name, she can reply: "Guess." He adds, "not that many people think it's funny.")

At the age of 39, despite two marriages and two kids, Gillian Guess felt she hadn't really lived. Until Peter Gill came along.

About two weeks after the fateful phone call, the affair was under way. Their first physical contact was anti-climactic. ("I've had vaccinations which lasted longer," says Guess. "Don't write that.") But soon it developed into a grand passion, and much like her father's romance, she was prepared to risk everything for love. She was swept away, she says, unable to stem the flowing tide of emotions which she was experiencing for the first time in her life. In the short term, Gill was able to give her all she ever needed -- a strong, powerful man who wasn't going to leave.

In the long-term, things were becoming problematic. Gill was nothing like her fantasy, he was often crude and, at times, rough. Intellectually, Guess knew she had crossed a line. What she didn't know was whether it was illegal. She felt powerless to stop herself.

"My intellect and my emotions have always been polar opposites," she says.

So she continued the affair.

Guess may have thought her troubles ended with the trial but she was wrong, it was only the beginning. Although she had been scrupulous (in her mind) about not allowing her personal feelings for Gill to interfere with the jury's deliberations, not everybody saw it that way. Their non-verbal communication had not gone unnoticed and it was only a matter of weeks before the police began to record the first of some 18,000 conversations in her home and on her phone. Their net was so wide that it captured dozens of people over hundreds of hours, including details of her niece's overlapping relationships between Vancouver Canucks superstar Pavel Bure and X-Files hunk David Duchovny.

But the police weren't her only problem. She had become physically afraid of Gill.

"He was always a little control freak," she says. "There was no point ever that I wasn't a little afraid of him."

And with good reason, as it turns out. On one occasion, she says, he grabbed her around the throat and squeezed for a long time. Another time, when she was trying to sever the relationship, he bit her so severely on the leg that he broke the skin and left huge bruises which lingered for days.

The problem was resolved when she was charged because her bail conditions said she was to have no contact with Gill.

However, that didn't stop him from leaving encouraging messages on her voice mail throughout her trial.

It was that contact which added an extra sting to his remarks after her conviction for obstructing justice, where he said she has a "big yap" and called her a publicity hound. (In a surly voice message, Gill refused an interview request for this piece.)

"It was like somebody just punched me really hard in the stomach," says Guess of how she felt when she learned of his remarks, although she denies still being in love with him. "(But) I guess, (I did) think he would always be in my life."

He will be there for some time, although not in the way Guess had expected. Legally, their futures are inextricably entwined. The Crown appealed the acquittals of four of the men, primarily on the grounds of Guess' involvement with Gill. Although she didn't testify in her own defence, it is likely she will be subpoenaed to do so at the Court of Appeal. Her evidence would all but guarantee the four men would face a retrial on murder charges. As a key witness in a gang-related killing, she may be in peril.

Her own conviction will be appealed after the Aug. 20 sentencing, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie says.

She lost an appeal for a new trial

She lost her appeal for the sentence
"Leave to appeal is granted and the appeal is dismissed"

In the meantime, it's not all sex and bites and negligees. Serious legal issues are beginning to emerge about the handling of this case. Why, for example, was Guess allowed to stay on the jury after court officials expressed reservations to the judge about her behavior? (A jury can be allowed to render a verdict with as few as 10 members.) At what point, if any, did the Crown know the process may have been tainted and why didn't they act? And who authorized the recording of confidential material between a lawyer and a client? Why was Guess excluded from hearing evidence at her trial -- the first time in Canadian legal history an accused was barred from the courtroom?

And why was the gag order of that star chamber extended to cover her lawyer so that even he can't act on her behalf? And finally, if Guess was charged and convicted under section 139 of the criminal code, why wasn't Peter Gill?

If the speculation is correct, Guess is going to have some time to ponder the answers to those questions -- about two years' worth. The notion of a jail term has been deeply upsetting for Guess' two children -- Adam, 13, and Alana, 15. They are both charming people, bright, polite and devoted to their mom, even if they don't always understand her.

On a recent night, as a mini-skirted Guess drew open stares of recognition on a downtown street, Alana wondered aloud about why her mother hasn't tried to disguise her peacock tendencies, even just a bit.

"I wouldn't do that," Alana says, nodding to her mom's big heels and small skirt. "I'd put my hair down maybe and wear sweats." There is no contempt in her tone, just concern. She moves towards her mother to protectively link arms. "I think there must be some part of her that likes the attention."