VANCOUVER -- The trial in the sinking of the Queen of the North passenger ferry revealed intimate details of a sexual relationship between the ship's navigating officer and another crew member, but the judge hearing the case warned a jury Monday not to use the illicit affair to jump to conclusions about Karl Lilgert's character.
Lilgert, the ferry's fourth officer, has been on trial since January for criminal negligence causing the deaths of two passengers, who haven't been seen since the ferry missed a turn and struck an island off northern British Columbia on March 22, 2006.
The Crown's case has focused in part on an affair between Lilgert and quartermaster Karen Briker, which began the previous September. The court heard the affair ended several weeks before the sinking after Lilgert and Briker were each confronted by their spouses, and on the night of the sinking they were working alone together for the first time since the breakup.
But Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein cautioned the jury not to use the affair as evidence of Lilgert's guilt.
"This evidence introduced by the Crown was to help prove an issue directly relevant to the Crown's theory that Mr. Lilgert was distracted by Ms. Briker's presence on the bridge and failed to navigate the vessel," Stromberg-Stein told jurors as she delivered her instructions before the jury's deliberations. "You cannot use that Lilgert may have been involved in a sexual relationship with Ms. Briker as evidence of his character or disposition. More specifically, you cannot infer from this evidence that Mr. Lilgert is a person who is more likely to have committed the offence."
The Crown has argued Lilgert was negligent when he failed to make a scheduled turn, leaving the ferry on a collision course with Gil Island. During Lilgert's cross-examination, a prosecutor suggested he was either arguing with Briker or having sex with her when the ship missed the turn, which he denied.
Lilgert and Briker both testified, each telling the jury there were no hard feelings after the affair ended and insisting it played no part in what happened. They each testified there was little conversation between them in the half-hour before the collision, except for a brief discussion about Briker's recent decision to purchase a home with her spouse.
Stromberg-Stein was expected to finish her instructions today, leaving the case in the hands of the jury.
During the trial, Lilgert told the jury he was doing everything he could to navigate the ferry through rough weather and around as many as two small boats when, inexplicably, the ferry collided with Gil Island. He said strong winds, rain and sleet were interfering with his radar and pushing the ship off course, though he insisted he was confident he had successfully kept the ferry roughly half a kilometre away from Gil Island.
-- The Canadian Press