VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Pickton to stand trial for murder in deaths of 15 sex trade workers
July 24, 2003
Robert (Willy) Pickton gazed at a writing pad on his knee and showed little emotion as a provincial court judge ordered him tried on charges he killed 15 sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside.
CREDIT: Felicity Don, Special to the Sun
Robert (Willy) Pickton scribbles on a writing pad as Port Coquitlam Judge David Stone commits him to trial on 15 counts of murder.
"I find the test on committal of counts one to 15 has been met, and the accused will stand trial," Port Coquitlam provincial court Judge David Stone said Wednesday, at the conclusion of Pickton's preliminary hearing.
In his oral ruling, Stone said new evidence came to light during the hearing which prompted the Crown to ask the judge to consider seven additional counts of murder against Pickton.
He said the defence argued he did not have jurisdiction to commit Pickton to any new charges once the preliminary hearing started.
Stone's ruling indicated the Crown has since decided it could pursue any additional counts against Pickton through preferred indictment, a procedure that allows a prosecutor to file new charges against a person who has already been ordered to stand trial.
Stone said he would have committed Pickton to stand trial on seven additional counts of murder if they had been part of the original indictment. Those pertain to Tiffany Drew, Sarah de Vries, Marnie Frey, Cindy Felix, Angela Jardine, Diana Melnick and an unidentified woman the court is calling Jane Doe.
CREDIT: Richard Lam, Canadian Press
Crown prosecutor Mike Petrie (centre) is surrounded by media outside court after judge committed Robert (Willy) Pickton to trial.
If Pickton is charged in connection with those women, it would raise the number of murder charges against him to 22. He is already accused of being Canada's worst serial murderer.
Outside court, both Crown attorney Michael Petrie and defence lawyer Peter Ritchie refused to discuss if or when Pickton could face additional murder counts.
Police and anthropology students continue to search Pickton's Port Coquitlam pig farm, where they have been for the last 18 months. And the missing women's task force recently expanded its search for evidence to include a marshy strip of land near Mission.
Stone said in his ruling that the case was extremely complex because it began with Pickton facing two counts of first-degree murder in February 2002, and that increased to 15 by the time the preliminary hearing began last December.
Then throughout the last six months, the Crown and defence had to juggle new evidence and procedural problems because of the ongoing police investigation.
"This case is likely unique in Canadian criminal law in its evidenciary scope," Stone said.
He praised the Crown and the defence for cooperating to keep the cost and the time of the preliminary hearing down.
The object of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. A sweeping publication ban prohibits reporting any evidence discussed during the hearing.
When Pickton, 53, was in court Monday, his hair fell to below his shoulders and he often smirked or shook his head during Petrie's closing arguments.
On Wednesday, Pickton's receding hair was cut short and he mainly kept his head bowed, taking notes and avoiding the gaze of courtroom spectators.
Relatives of missing women, advocates for Downtown Eastside sex-trade workers and police officers who have worked on the case were among the 75 people at the hearing.
Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn is on the list of 61 missing women, said it was emotionally draining to hear the judge summarize months of evidence in his half-hour ruling.
"The information was read in a very matter-of-fact way. It shocked me, it staggered me, it troubled me a great deal. I don't think there was anyone sitting in that courtroom who was unmoved, I think, by what they heard," Crey said, his voice cracking with grief.
"He is going to trial, and I was pleased to hear that," he added.
Pickton will remain in the pre-trial centre in Port Coquitlam until Sept. 11, when he appears in New Westminster Supreme Court to start the process of setting a date for his trial.
The trial is expected to last longer than the preliminary hearing, which heard testimony for 60 days over a six-month period. The Crown called 85 witnesses, and anticipates asking at least that many people to testify during a trial.
Setting a trial date will require finding a convenient time for the New Westminster courthouse and all the lawyers involved. Petrie heads a team of four Crown attorneys, and Ritchie leads a team of at least four defence lawyers.
The trial would likely not start until mid-2004, at the earliest.
Ritchie said he had expected Stone would commit his client to trial, and anticipates the proceeding will be "long and complicated." He said there is still much evidence to be analysed.
The defence has several factors to consider when setting a trial date, including whether it should be delayed until police have concluded their searches.
"Since the investigation is ongoing, it is difficult for us to know exactly how long a trial is going to be or when the searches may be completed. So, that is an issue that the defence has to deal with here, whether to press for an early trial or not," Ritchie said.
Petrie said the Crown is prepared to go to trial on the 15 counts, regardless of the status of the police searches.
Elaine Allan, who has met many of the dead and missing women through her years of advocacy work in the Downtown Eastside, wiped tears from her eyes during the hearing.
"I think we're getting one step closer to justice being served," she said outside the courthouse.
Allan said women living in the Downtown Eastside are traumatized by this case, and she hopes it sends a message to people who have not placed a high priority on the missing prostitutes.
"So often, I've heard people say, 'I don't care about these women, these women were not important to me. These women were dregs on society.' But I think as Canadians we all feel the impact of how it is we treat our weakest citizens. And these women were among our weakest citizens," she said.
Crey, who speaks for many of the victims' families, said his heart goes out to the relatives of the 15 women Pickton is accused of murdering. But he said it has been "extraordinarily difficult" for the families of the other missing women to not know what has happened to their loved ones.
"There's one question that remains, of course, unanswered for me and my entire family, and that is the fate of my own sister," he said, pausing to fight back tears. "As the task force continues the good job they're doing, maybe we'll get some word about my sister."
The 15 women Pickton is accused of murdering are Patricia Johnson, Mona Wilson, Dianne Rock, Heather Bottomley, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving, Georgina Papin, Helen Hallmark, Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Jacqueline McDonell, Heather Chinnock, Inga Hall and Jennifer Furminger.
All were sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside who struggled with drug addictions.
© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun
Updated: January 01, 2007