VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Judge pleads for patience from families in Pickton case
Latest delay means the trial may not start until early 2006
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm made a direct plea to the families of the missing women Monday for patience as he once again put off setting a date for alleged serial killer Robert Pickton to face trial.
CREDIT: Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun
Ernie Crey, who's sister Dawn's DNA was found at Robert Pickton's farm, outside B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster Monday.F
Monday's delay means Pickton's trial may not begin until early 2006.
"Everybody in the system is working diligently -- [though] it may not appear so to some, particularly those members here from the families who are touched by the case," said Dohm. "I'm asking you to be patient a little while longer."
Dohm set a hearing for March 31 to get an update on the disclosure of evidence by prosecutors to the defence and another hearing, for June 27, to select a judge to hear the case and possibly set a date to begin hearing pre-trial motions -- motions which Crown counsel said Monday could take four months.
"It is in everybody's interest that the trial of this matter commence in 2005," said Dohm. "It will not, however, commence unless it is ready for trial."
Many family members have expressed frustration at the delays in getting Pickton -- who was first arrested almost three years ago in February 2002 -- to trial.
However, on Monday, they seemed willing to give the court the benefit of the doubt.
Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn's DNA has been found on the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam, was in court Monday.
"When I got here, I was very frustrated at the delays," said Crey. "[But] I'll go away feeling somewhat more reassured than when I arrived here this morning. ... I get the sense going home today that things are moving forward now."
Lynn Frey, whose daughter Marnie's DNA has also been found on the Pickton farm, said she would rather the court take its time than hurry the case and make mistakes.
"It's frustrating it's taken this long, but if it means everything will be in order and there'll be no screw-ups, fine -- let's take our time," said Frey.
Pickton appeared at Monday's hearing via video.
Wearing a red shirt and appearing gaunt, he showed little emotion throughout the hearing, sitting almost perfectly still -- his image taking up the bottom half of the television screen.
As the hearing began Monday morning, a packed gallery of family members and reporters sat behind a thick, clear barrier in a courtroom at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster.
However, problems with the court's audio system made it almost impossible for those in the gallery to hear the proceedings.
When Dohm was made aware of the problem, he allowed those in the gallery into the courtroom itself -- meaning many family members were standing just a few feet from him when he made his plea for patience.
Higher courts have ruled in the past that an accused has a right to a speedy trial and some accused have been freed after judges ruled they waited too long for trial.
In asking for an adjournment, Pickton's lawyer Peter Ritchie advised Dohm that Pickton was waiving that right -- reducing the chances that he could be released at a later date because of excessive delays.
Before Dohm made his ruling, Crown prosecutor Michael Petrie said police had made significant strides in their ability to process the huge amount of evidence retrieved from the Pickton farm.
Through the use of robotic testing, Petrie said, the Missing Women Task Force has been able to process more than 100,000 DNA swabs since the investigation began -- far more than the 20,000 swabs a year it was capable of before the laboratory upgrades.
DNA from 31 women has been found on the Pickton farm.
So far, Pickton is facing murder charges in connection with just 15 of those women. The Crown has said it intends to add another seven murder charges before the case goes to trial -- for 22 charges in total.
On Monday, Crown spokesman Geoffrey Gaul said investigations into the remaining nine women could lead to further charges against Pickton.
"The police are actively investigating and what results from those investigations could well be additional charges, but that remains speculative at this time," said Gaul outside court.
Both the Crown and the defence said the delays in getting the Pickton case to trial are due to the incredible volume of evidence involved and the duty for prosecutors to disclose that evidence to the defence.
In court, Dohm said the volume of evidence in the Pickton trial could well rival that seen at the Air India bombing case, which just wrapped up in Vancouver.
"I think it's fair to say that this is what one might characterize as a 'megacase'," Gaul said outside court.
There are five lawyers working full time on Pickton's defence, Ritchie said outside court, and the defence team has had to hire an expert in document control to help it manage all the evidence.
Both the Crown and defence said they were largely in agreement about what material should be disclosed, although there were some pieces of evidence the defence felt should be disclosed that the Crown didn't consider relevant.
Gaul said all of those involved in the case are doing their best to bring the case to trial as quickly as possible.
"But it will not be at the expense of the accused's right to a fair trial or the prosecution's ability to prepare and present its case in the manner that it wishes," he said.
Dohm praised both legal teams for their attempts to speed up the case.
"Had there not been this co-operation ... we would be a long way from the starting gate -- make no mistake about that," he said.
ROAD TO A PROSECUTION:
April 2, 2002: Crown announces three more first-degree charges against Pickton and another one a week later.
May 22, 2002: Pickton charged with seventh count of first-degree murder.
Sept. 19, 2002: Pickton charged with four more murders. List of missing officially grows to 63.
Oct. 2, 2002: Pickton charged with four more murders.
July 23, 2003: Judge David Stone commits Pickton for trial on 15 counts of first-degree murder.
Jan. 27, 2004: DNA of nine more women found on the Pickton farm, raising the possibility of more charges against Pickton.
Feb. 20, 2004: B.C. government reports investigation costs will likely run up to $70 million and that the money has been set aside in the provincial budget.
June 28, 2004: Pickton's trial is delayed once again after the Crown says thousands of exhibits from his farm still need to be analysed.
Oct. 6, 2004: Police add eight women to their list of those being investigated by the Missing Women Task Force. Present total is 69.
Dec. 20, 2004: Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm once again delays setting a trial date for Pickton, adjourning the hearing until March 31, 2005.
Source: Vancouver Sun
Ran with fact box "Road to a Prosecution", which has been appended to the end of the story.
© The Vancouver Sun 2004
Updated: August 21, 2016