Decision on new trial for Pickton could be
By Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service
March 25, 2010
OTTAWA — Judges on the Supreme Court of Canada peppered
Robert Pickton's lawyer with skeptical questions as he argued Thursday that the
serial killer deserves a new trial because the judge in his case flubbed his
instructions to the jury.
The court reserved its ruling after a two-hour hearing and it could be months
before a decision is released.
Lawyer Gil McKinnon said that Pickton suffered a miscarriage of justice, but
several judges appeared conflicted over whether the jury instructions were
faulty and, even if they were, whether it would have made any difference in the
"I'm interested in your response to the Crown's submission that even if this had
been a properly instructed jury, given what they call staggering evidence in the
case . . . where is the prejudice or the miscarriage of justice that would
justify overturning this verdict," Justice Rosalie Abella asked McKinnon.
Pickton, a pig farmer from Port Coquitlam, B.C., was sentenced to life
imprisonment after a jury found him guilty in December 2007 of six counts of
second-degree murder, with no chance of parole for 25 years.
The victims, female prostitutes, disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside
from 1978-2001 and their butchered remains were found on his farm.
Crown lawyer Gregory Fitch told the Supreme Court that Pickton admitted to being
the "head honcho" responsible for the deaths of the women.
A central issue in the appeal is whether Justice James Williams, who presided
over the year-long trial, made a critical mistake when he instructed jury
members that they could still convict Pickton, even if they decided he did not
act alone but that he "actively participated" in the murders.
The judge's assertion, in response to a jury question after six days of
deliberations, contradicted his earlier instruction that the jury had to
conclude that Pickton was the "actual shooter."
While the Crown maintained during the trial that Pickton acted alone, luring the
women to his farm where he killed them and butchered their bodies in his
slaughterhouse, the defence had argued Pickton's farm "was a beehive of
activity" and that other persons — such as his friends Dinah Taylor and Pat
Casanova — could have killed the women.
"The overriding issue on this appeal is trial fairness," said McKinnon. "It is
not enough for the Crown to say, oh well, there would have been a conviction in
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, however, suggested that as long as the overall
trial was fair, flawed jury instructions might not be enough to breach Pickton's
"Another way of looking might be to say you have to . . . look at whether the
trial as a whole is fair and then take the deficiency, such as it is, and put in
the context of the trial as a whole and the evidence," she said. "You might be
able to argue, I'm just putting this to you, that viewed in the agglomerate
there was no miscarriage of justice."
Fitch conceded in the Supreme Court that the initial jury instructions were
faulty and that the judge had a duty to clarify to the confused jury that
Pickton needed only to have played an active role in the killings to be found
Fitch added, however, that the evidence against Pickton, a self-confessed
killer, was so "overwhelming" that the jury instructions would not have changed
The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld Pickton's conviction last year, but one judge
If Pickton wins a new trial, the Crown has said it may also proceed with another
20 murder charges, in addition to the original six.
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun