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Crown wants to try Pickton for 26 deaths if he's granted an appeal

Lori Culbert
Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

If serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton is granted a new trial by the Court of Appeal, the Crown wants him to be tried on all 26 first-degree murder counts with which he has been charged.

The move is the latest salvo in Pickton's long, complicated legal battle since his arrest nearly six years ago. Since then, he has been charged with 26 counts of first-degree murder, and his first trial on six of those counts concluded last month with the jury finding him guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder.

The Crown on Monday filed an appeal of that verdict, alleging the trial judge made six errors in law -- including severing the 26 murder charges into two trials: the first on six counts and the second on the remaining 20.

The Crown is asking the Court of Appeal to set aside Pickton's acquittal on six counts of first-degree murder and allow a new trial on all 26 charges -- but only if Pickton appeals and is granted a new trial on the first six.

Attorney-General Wally Oppal confirmed Monday that the Crown is happy with the initial verdict because Pickton received the same sentence as he would have for first-degree murder: Life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

"We all agree it was a just verdict. It's a very difficult case, but it's the verdict of the jury," he said.

The Crown is appealing only because it anticipates the defence will file an appeal this week, and therefore the prosecution wants to argue pre-emptively that Pickton should be tried again for first-degree murder at any new trial.

"If the defence appeal goes ahead [unchallenged] . . . then that new trial will proceed on charges of second-degree murder," Oppal said. "Whereas if they allow our appeal . . . the retrial would be on first-degree charges."

If the defence does not file an appeal, the Crown's application will be dropped.

Prosecutor Stan Lowe, who speaks for B.C.'s criminal justice branch, said an earlier deadline forced the Crown's hand: The prosecution had 30 days to appeal following Pickton's Dec. 9 conviction, while the defence had 30 days following his Dec. 11 sentencing.

Defence lawyer Peter Ritchie has said he would comment this week on whether Pickton would appeal, but he was not in his office on Monday.

Lilliane Beaudoin, whose sister Dianne Rock is among the 20 charges still outstanding against Pickton, was bewildered by the turn of events when contacted by The Vancouver Sun.

"We're right back to plan one," she said of the Crown's application for a trial on 26 charges.

"This is what we wanted in the first place, is to go ahead with all 26." She referred to "all the agony that people have been put through" with the first trial.

NDP MLA Leonard Krog, the NDP's attorney-general critic, blasted the ministry for not briefing the families before the appeal was filed. "It seems so disrespectful."

Oppal apologized, saying it was "difficult to control the process" with such a massive case.

"I apologize to the victims, the families. They should have been told ahead of time," Oppal said.

Cynthia Cardinal, whose sister Georgina Papin is one of the six women Pickton was convicted of killing, said she dreads the thought of hearing the evidence about her sister at another trial.

"Oh my God, not again. I feel that it's really taken a lot out of the first six families already, and it's really going to be tough to go through that again," she said.

"I don't think I see the necessity in that, because [Pickton] is already sentenced to life."

The Crown is basing its appeal on six errors it alleges Pickton's judge, Supreme Court Justice James Williams, made in law:

- The severance of the 26 counts into two trials.

- His jury instructions about using similar-fact evidence to determine if the murders were planned and deliberate -- the definition of first-degree murder.

- His failure to instruct the jury that the dismemberment and disposal of remains were relevant to the issue of a planned and deliberate murder.

- Two rulings that are currently protected by a publication ban.

- His removal from the Crown's case of all evidence about Jane Doe, an unidentified woman whose heel and rib bones were found on Pickton's farm.

"The Crown position always has been that this was a proper case of first-degree murder, and that a certain amount of evidence that went to that was excluded [by Williams]," Oppal said.

He said it didn't make sense to go ahead now with a separate trial on the 20 remaining charges because the Appeal Court's ruling on "the errors" could influence those counts too.

UBC law professor Isabel Grant said it makes sense that the Crown would file an appeal in anticipation of the defence doing the same thing later this week.

"What [the Crown] doesn't want to have happen is to have [Pickton] retried on second-degree murder," Grant said. "The sentences are identical now because he got the maximum, but there's no guarantee . . . that he would get the maximum once again."

Ravi Hira, a well-known Vancouver litigator who has also worked as a prosecutor, said it would be "most unusual" for the defence not to appeal and noted it is rare for the Crown to do so.

However, he said the Crown could not appeal the severance ruling until the end of the trial.

Hira said based on the complexity of an appeal in this case, it would likely be late 2008 or early 2009 before it is heard.

Oppal would not comment on the legal costs of the Pickton case so far, but said money shouldn't be a reason to avoid an appeal.

Marilyn Kraft, whose stepdaughter Cindy Feliks is the victim in one of the 20 remaining counts against Pickton, was stunned that the first six counts could be heard all over again at a new trial.

"It seems like a complete waste of money for the 10 or 11 months it put the jurors through and everyone else through," Kraft said. "It was very, very hard on everybody."

Families of the other 20 women were worried that Pickton's trial on those counts may never be held. Monday's developments at least eased those fears somewhat.

"I'm hoping if they go forward with the 26 that everything will come out and we'll get our answers," said Beaudoin.

lculbert@png.canwest.com

 The Vancouver Sun 2008

The Pickton Case: http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/features/pickton/index.html

From the Vancouver Sun:

The Crown is basing its appeal on six errors it alleges Supreme Court Justice James Williams made:
- The severance of the 26 counts into two trials.
- Jury instructions about similar fact evidence in relation to whether the murders were planned and deliberate.
- Failing to instruct the jury that the dismemberment and disposal of remains were relevant to the issue of a planned and deliberate murder.
- Two rulings which are currently protected by a publication ban.
- Removing from the Crown's case all evidence about Jane Doe, an unidentified woman whose heel and rib bones were found on Pickton's Port Coquitlam farm.
"The Crown position always has been that this was a proper case of first-degree murder, and that a certain amount of evidence that went to that was excluded," Oppal said.
He said it didn't make sense to go ahead now with a separate trial on the 20 remaining charges because the Appeal Court's ruling on some of these matters would influence those counts as well.
UBC law professor Isabel Grant said it makes sense for the Crown to file an appeal in anticipation of the defence doing the same thing this week.
"Because what they don't want to have happen is to have (Pickton) retried on second-degree murder," he said. "The sentences are identical now because he got the maximum, but there's no guarantee . . . that he would get the maximum once again."
Oppal would not comment on the legal costs of the Pickton case so far, but said money shouldn't be a reason not pursue the appeal.

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Updated: August 21, 2016