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May 26, 2005. 06:09 AM
CP FILE PHOTO
Accused murderer Robert Pickton
 
Flash: The missing women  
Shedding some light on 'Willy'  
Mystery to lift  
Missingpeople.net  
Now there are 27 victims
Canada's deadliest serial murder case just got deadlier
'The magnitude of the number of charges is really overwhelming'

DANIEL GIRARD
WESTERN CANADA BUREAU

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C.—Canada's largest serial-murder case took another dramatic turn yesterday with the laying of 12 more charges against Robert William Pickton, who now stands accused of killing 27 women over the past decade.

Pickton, 55, appearing by video link from jail, sat expressionless as the new indictment was presented to British Columbia Supreme Court here in connection with the women — mainly drug addicts and prostitutes — missing from Vancouver's downtown eastside.

While at least four other women from a list of 69 missing from the neighbourhood as far back as the late 1970s have also been linked to Pickton's pig farm and the massive police investigation continues, Crown spokesman Stan Lowe indicated this is likely the total number of charges the accused will face in a trial scheduled to begin next year.

"By confining this trial to these 27 counts, it will afford certainty to the trial process and allow the trial to move forward in a fair and efficient manner," Lowe told reporters.

He refused to answer any questions, including whether additional charges were expected.

News of more charges brought relief to some families while others were left devastated as they learned there's not enough evidence to indict Pickton in connection with their missing relative.

"It's been a long wait, so there is some relief," Lynn Frey said in an interview after her stepdaughter, Marnie, was added yesterday to the list of Pickton's alleged victims.

The Freys were told more than two years ago Marnie, who last contacted her family on Vancouver Island on her 24th birthday in August 1997, had been confirmed dead.

"This recognizes her life was worth something," Lynn Frey said. "All these women were loved by somebody but they just took the wrong road and couldn't ever turn back."

Before yesterday, Pickton faced 15 counts of first-degree murder. But at his preliminary hearing, which ended in July 2003, evidence was presented on seven more women.

The new indictment includes each of those women, including an unidentified one referred to as Jane Doe. It also contains five more who were part of a group of at least nine women who have been linked to the farm since then as part of the ongoing investigation. All of the new charges are for first-degree murder.

"It was like a punch in the gut," said Lorraine Crey, whose sister Dawn's DNA was found at the farm but, according to investigators, not enough to lay a murder charge.

"There are no answers for our family," Crey told reporters. "We're back to square one.

"But we're never going to stop searching to find out what happened to her."

Pickton, who has been in custody since his arrest in February 2002, is charged with killing women who went missing as far back as February 1995.

"The magnitude of the number of charges is really overwhelming," said Wayne Leng, who runs a website dedicated to the women (http://www.missingpeople.net/) and is a friend of Sarah deVries, who vanished in 1998 and was one of the new charges yesterday. "I never thought it would ever get this high.

"And then you think of all the other families who don't have any answers. It's awful."

Meanwhile, as arguments began yesterday on what is expected to be three weeks of hearings on the disclosure of evidence, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie asked for a sweeping publication ban on the proceedings to prevent potential jurors from being tainted.

Calling the details of arguments over the next few weeks "highly contentious, highly inflammatory, extremely newsworthy and dramatic," Ritchie asked Mr. Justice Geoff Barrow to implement an unusual order that would see the court open to the public but those who attend restricted from disclosing any of what they heard. Ritchie, who later admitted to reporters such an order would be very difficult — and perhaps impossible — to enforce, said he's most concerned about details of the case against his client appearing in foreign media or on websites that can be accessed locally.

Such material could not only make it difficult to choose an impartial jury, he said it might also damage the reputation of "innocent" people the defence may link to the missing-women investigation and potential illegal activities with unsubstantiated allegations.

"The safest way to proceed in order to protect our client is to close the courtroom," Ritchie told the court, although he acknowledged the judge was unlikely to do that.

Crown attorney Mike Petrie supported Ritchie's application, noting that a new "sanitized" summary of the case against Pickton remained sealed under court order. He also said the submissions during the disclosure portion of the case could include "scandalous" allegations of others being involved in the murders that remain unproven.

Lawyers representing various media outlets rejected Ritchie's suggestion that such a restrictive media ban was required, noting the judge at Pickton's preliminary hearing in 2003 was able to prevent publication of evidence with a strict but more conventional ban.

Dan Burnett, whose clients include the CBC, said despite a few early "glitches" the original ban at the Pickton preliminary continues to work two years after it was imposed. He said such a high-profile case requires even more public scrutiny and accountability.

Barrow was expected to continue hearing the arguments on a ban today.

Several months of legal arguments to determine the admissibility of evidence are expected to begin in September. They will also be covered by a publication ban. Opening arguments in the trial could begin as early as January.

Additional articles by Daniel Girard

 


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Updated: August 21, 2016