VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Key witness dies before top court can rule on Robert Pickton's appeal
By Lori Culbert, Vancouver Sun
Gina Houston, a close friend of accused serial killer Robert Pickton, arrives at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster for her second day of her testimony at Pickton's trial.
Photograph by: Richard Lam, Vancouver Sun files
VANCOUVER — An important Crown witness in Robert Pickton’s 2007 trial has died, just as the Supreme Court of Canada is set to decide whether to grant the convicted serial killer a second trial.
Gina Houston, who was a longtime friend of Pickton’s, died last week in a B.C. hospital after suffering from breast cancer for eight years, a relative said in an interview. She was 42 years old.
Houston was remembered as a caring mother to her three children, who are between the ages of 10 and 23, by a relative who doesn’t want to be identified because of the notoriety of the case.
When she took the stand in 2007, Houston was taken into B.C. Supreme Court in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster in a wheelchair and needed to take frequent breaks because her cancer had left her fatigued.
She was one of five star Crown witnesses at the trial, all of them people who had spent time on Pickton’s pig farm in nearby Port Coquitlam, where the victims’ butchered remains were found.
Pickton was convicted of the second-degree murder of six women, who all vanished from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
He has launched an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is expected to rule in a few months whether his conviction will stand or he will be granted a new trial.
Crown attorney Roger Cutler, speaking for B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch, said prosecutors would not confirm the death of a trial witness.
However, he said if a Pickton witness dies, there are provisions to allow that person’s previous testimony to be read into evidence at any future trial.
“They’ve already given evidence under oath, and parties have had the opportunity to examine and cross-examine a witness,” Cutler said. “So the Criminal Code allows for that sort of evidence to be readmitted at (any new) trial.”
B.C. justice officials have said that if Pickton loses his bid for a new trial, then 20 other counts of first-degree murder he is facing will be stayed since he is already serving a life sentence. However, if Pickton is granted a new trial, then the Crown would like to proceed on all 26 counts together.
RCMP Cpl. Annie Linteau, who speaks for the Missing Women Task Force, would not comment on how the loss of a key witness could affect any future trial for Pickton.
She said the group had not kept in contact with Houston after the trial.
“All we can say is to offer our condolences to the family,” Linteau added.
Houston wept in the witness box when asked if it was difficult to testify against Pickton. She described him as polite, gentle, naive and gullible — a kind man who two of her three children called “Daddy.”
She estimated Pickton had given her up to $80,000 to pay her bills when she fell on hard times.
Houston also testified that Pickton wanted her to make a “double suicide” pact just days before his 2002 arrest because “he didn’t want to go to jail.”
In her key evidence, she told the trial that Pickton had mentioned up to six bodies buried at the farm.
Houston recalled the name “Mona” was mentioned during a conversation. The partial remains of Mona Wilson were found in his slaughterhouse. However, she also testified she didn’t believe Pickton had killed “Mona.”
Houston said she saw Pickton’s friend Dinah Taylor with two of the victims: Sereena Abotsway and Andrea Joesbury. Taylor was arrested, but not charged, in this case.
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Updated: August 21, 2016