Pickton lawyers want some reporters banned
COQUITLAM, B.C.—Lawyers for the man accused of being Canada's worst serial
killer are expected to ask a judge today to bar some reporters from the
courtroom after what they say are "clear and obvious" breaches of a sweeping
In reiterating concerns about the ability of pig farmer Robert William
Pickton to get a fair trial, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie said some aspects
of the case against his client have been made public, jeopardizing the
impartiality of potential future jurors.
"Both Canadian media and foreign media, specifically American media, are
ignoring the bans on publication," Ritchie told provincial court Judge David
Stone here yesterday.
Pickton, 53, is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder in
connection with some of the 61 women — predominantly drug addicts and
prostitutes — missing from Vancouver's downtown eastside. The case has
attracted international media attention as the list of alleged victims has
grown and police continue combing his farm.
On Monday, a preliminary hearing to see if there's enough evidence for
Pickton to stand trial began hearing evidence, which is the subject of a
publication ban. Ritchie unsuccessfully argued last month that the
preliminary hearing should be closed because it would involve the
presentation of evidence of "an exceedingly grim nature."
By yesterday afternoon, he was back before Stone with copies of newspaper
articles and transcripts of broadcast stories from the first day of the
presenting of evidence.
Ritchie urged Stone to find some reporters in contempt of court, which
the judge refused. He then asked that some be criminally charged, which did
not seem to interest the judge.
Ritchie then called on Stone to eject certain media representatives and
toughen his ban.
Ritchie once again expressed his view that the entire proceeding should
be closed to reporters, victims' families and the general public, a
suggestion Stone still rejects.
"I can say categorically that I am not excluding the public, victims'
families, from sitting in," the judge said before adjourning court for the
day so lawyers could discuss the issue.
The judge expects to get a list of specific instructions that the lawyers
want him to outline when court resumes this morning in this suburb 35
kilometres east of Vancouver.
Ritchie didn't name Canadian media who he felt breached the ban but
specifically cited Associated Press from the United States and The Guardian
newspaper in England.
A spokesperson for AP last night rejected Ritchie's accusations.
"We believe we have done our best to avoid a confrontation with the
court," David Tomlin, assistant to the president of AP said from New York.
"The story was not transmitted to the Canadian Press, our exclusive
distributor in Canada.
"All other transmissions were accompanied by an editor's note calling
attention to the publication ban."
There are precedents for American media being banned from Canadian
In the early 1990s in Ontario, Buffalo newspapers and television stations
defied Canadian court orders involving the publicizing of evidence in the
case of Paul Bernardo and his wife, Karla Homolka, in the murders of
schoolgirls Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy.
American media were eventually banned from Homolka's manslaughter trial
over the judge's fear that if details were made public it would hurt the
chances of finding impartial jurors for the case against Bernardo.
Earlier yesterday, lawyers for both the crown and defence raised concerns
over a report on the Internet site of the Seattle Times newspaper, focusing
on Monday's evidence.
The Web site story referred to the circumstances around a videotape and
details about Pickton's upbringing.
Canadian media outlets have said they plan to respect the publication ban
and Seattle television stations, which broadcast into the Vancouver area,
are having their stories on Pickton blacked out north of the border. But
Americans say Web sites don't count.
Crown Attorney Mike Petrie said that while "most of the evidence brought
forward so far was not deemed to be prejudicial" it appeared clear the
publication ban was breached.
Adrian Brooks, another of Pickton's lawyers, told Stone the defence was
not only concerned by publication of the Seattle Times story but also by
Canadian media referring audiences to the fact that details of the case
could be found on U.S. and foreign Web sites.
"The concerns are always that of a fair trial," Brooks told reporters.
"We want to be able to pick up a jury that has an open mind about
everything they're going to hear at trial."
Officials with the Seattle Times yesterday declined to make a statement
about their story.
Stone appeared sympathetic to the concerns of the lawyers.
"If the American media doesn't live up to the spirit of the ban then the
option is banning the American media from court," he said in setting aside
today to deal with the issue.
Pickton paid close attention in court yesterday as the evidence continued
to be presented.
He followed along closely in a binder full of transcripts of tape
recordings sitting on his lap, occasionally mouthing the words he read on
the page or writing notes on a yellow legal pad.
Additional articles by Daniel Girard