Crown willing to share Pickton evidence with families of 20 remaining victims
NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — While prosecution and defence lawyers argued when or even if convicted serial killer Robert Pickton's second murder trial should proceed, the Crown disclosed Thursday it's prepared to tell victims' families how their loved ones died if the second trial is scrubbed.
B.C. Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Stan Lowe said if there's no trial on the 20 remaining first-degree murder counts the one-time Port Coquitlam, B.C., pig farmer faces, the Crown is ready to disclose details of what police think happened to the women named in the second set of murder charges.
"We have advised the families that in the event that we do not proceed with a second trial in this case, the prosecution service and the police will meet with individual family members and discuss the evidence that was uncovered during the investigation in hopes of providing them with some partial closure in these very difficult circumstances," Lowe said outside B.C. Supreme Court.
"We also intend to forward, once these matter are completed, all this information on to the parole board, which they can consider at any subsequent parole application in this case."
The comment was the first public indication that the Attorney General's Ministry is trying to appease relatives of the 20 victims whose cases may not be tried.
Lowe said some family members support the decision not to proceed if Pickton's first conviction stands. But some who attended a hearing on whether to adjourn the second trial remained hurt and angry, feeling the victims were being abandoned.
"It's in the public interest," said Laurel Isberg, whose sister Debra Jones is among the 20, referring to the Crown's argument.
"But nobody ever said one word about the families, what they go through. You sort of feel numb after a while. It could take three years, five years, who knows."
Victim Wendy Crawford's brother Bill Pearson said he's disappointed by the Crown's position.
"I want to see the trial go through so we can get our closure to this," he said. "If they don't go through ... then to me he's getting away with 20 murders. That's not right."
Pearson said with Pickton receiving concurrent sentences there's always a chance 25 years from now that a parole board may have "a change of heart" and let him out.
"I think this should be like the States; they should all run consecutive."
Crawford's sister Susie Kinshella said Pickton's rights should not trump those of the victims.
"Our judicial system needs to get a little bit tougher," she said. "What about the constitutional rights of these other 20 women."
A jury convicted Pickton last December of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women whose remains were found on his farm. He was sentenced to the maximum term of life in prison with no chance to apply for parole for 25 years.
He faced 26 first-degree murder counts in all but the trial judge severed 20 of them to simplify the 10-month trial.
Both sides have appealed - the defence challenging the convictions and the Crown seeking to overturn trial rulings that split the charges and excluded similar-fact evidence.
The B.C. Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear the case starting March 30, 2009.
Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm of B.C. Supreme Court heard Crown prosecutor Melissa Gillespie's request to adjourn the second trial until after the appeals are dealt with.
She argued any Appeal Court ruling would effect conduct of a second trial, so it would cause problems if the trial was already underway when the decision came down.
The Crown has already promised not to proceed with a second trial on the deaths of the remaining 20 women if Pickton's conviction on the first six counts is upheld, because he's already received the maximum sentence available.
"This was a tremendously difficult decision," Lowe said outside court. "At the end of the day in our charge-assessment process we had to determine the public interest in this case, and the societal benefit that a second trial would bring in the event Mr. Pickton is destined to serve the maximum sentence at law."
But Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, told Dohm the appeal is likely headed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which means it could be 2011 before the process is exhausted.
Putting the second trial on hold that long, he said, "would cause a massive constitutional violation of Mr. Pickton's right to a speedy trial."
Ritchie, who is handing off Pickton's defence at any future trial to lawyer Peter Wilson, said if the Crown is not ready to proceed soon it should ask for a judicial stay of proceedings, effectively dropping the charges.
Dohm resisted Ritchie's request he appoint a trial judge or at least assign a judge to manage the case - which it's estimated could take another three years - so it can move ahead efficiently.
He adjourned the hearing until April 8 to allow Ritchie time for a detailed response to the Crown's trial adjournment application.
Pickton was first arrested in February 2002 after police raided his suburban farm.
They discovered personal items from women, mostly drug-addicted prostitutes, who went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside over several years.
That triggered a massive investigation that turned up body parts and DNA evidence from more than two-dozen women, including heads sawn in half, bones and blood spatters.