Crown won't proceed with second trial if Pickton appeal fails
VANCOUVER - Serial killer Robert Pickton will not face trial on a further 20 counts of murder unless the six murder convictions from his first trial are overturned on appeal, says British Columbia Attorney General Wally Oppal.
But if the B.C. Court of Appeal rejects Pickton's appeal on the six counts of second-degree murder, then the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch will drop its plans for a trial on the remaining 20 murders Pickton stands accused of committing, Oppal confirmed Tuesday.
Oppal said the decision is in the public interest because it would serve no purpose to proceed with a second trial.
"The public interest here involves (not) putting everybody through a second trial, given the fact that no further punishment, no further sentence can be achieved by virtue of further convictions. He is now receiving the maximum," the attorney general told reporters in Victoria.
Canada has no provision in law for consecutive life sentences, Oppal said, and Pickton's sentence on the six counts for which he's already been convicted is the maximum possible.
"Life means life," he said. "It means natural life and he can't get any further sentence."
Oppal said some of the victims' families agree with the decision while others are upset.
Lori-Ann Ellis, whose sister-in-law Carrie Ellis is among the 20 outstanding cases, said she wants the trial to go ahead.
"Six of the 26 were given justice, they were given their day in court," she said. "The families had an opportunity to speak in public ... on how it affected them. That's something this family will never have.
"We want to know why the government feels that the murders and lives of these girls are not important enough to proceed with a trial."
Lilliane Beaudoin, whose sister Diane Rock is also among the 20 women, was outraged.
"I'm so upset at this moment that my mind isn't thinking straight," she told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from her home in Welland, Ont.
Beaudoin said it only makes sense that if someone is charged with a murder, the Crown should proceed with those charges.
"To me, that's telling me I'll never actually know who committed this crime. And I will never see punishment for my sister," she said. "That's injustice."
In total, Pickton was charged with 26 counts of first-degree murder but the judge at his first trial divided them into two groups and the jury at the first trial heard evidence in only six cases.
He was convicted of the lesser charge of second-degree murder in those cases last December, following one of the most complex and expensive investigations and trials in Canadian history.
Pickton was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years before he can apply for parole.
Both the defence and the Crown have appealed the convictions, the Crown in a pre-emptive strike to ensure a trial on all 26 counts for first-degree murder if the conviction is overturned.
The appeal could take more than a year to make its way through the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Beaudoin, who has had contact with some of the other family members, said they knew from the moment the charges against Pickton were separated into two cases that they may not see justice.
Oppal pledged that there would be a second trial, Beaudoin said.
"We want to confront Oppal," she said. "He's been two-faced and a hypocrite about it."
Several other family members said they have not heard from victim service workers, who have had contact with victim families on behalf of the justice branch throughout the investigation and trial.
Carrie Kerr, whose sister Helen Hallmark is among the 20 women Pickton stands accused of killing, said she will never have closure on her sister's death, with or without a second trial.
"I honestly can't say that I believe there would be proper justice, even if they went ahead with a second trial," Kerr said.
She staunchly believes there were others involved in the deaths and she said a second trial would be "a waste of money."
"I'm glad the guy's in jail but I don't see how that helps what happened," Kerr said.
At the time the Crown announced it would be appealing, Oppal apologized to family members of the victims for not informing them first that an appeal was being prepared.
His comments Tuesday on the likelihood of a second trial followed public comments by Beaudoin and other families.
Mike Farnworth, public safety critic for the B.C. New Democrats, demanded a commitment from the attorney general that the Crown will proceed to trial on the remaining charges.
He called it "shocking and insensitive" that the Crown is even considering abandoning the second trial.
"The families have made it clear they want to see justice done," Farnworth said in a statement. "They've suffered enough already."
The investigation was one of the most complex in Canadian history. The first trial lasted 23 months, including preliminary arguments, and cost many millions of dollars.
Ellis believes that cost was the primary reason for the decision but Oppal was adamant it was not a factor.
"We can't put a price on justice," he told reporters. "We know there are victims out there and we're not going to say to the victims that the costs are so prohibitive that we're not going to prosecute."