VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Pickton accused in 4 more deaths
'This is now the largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history': Wants legal-cost bailout
Thursday, October 03, 2002
PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. - Robert Pickton is now the target of the "largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history," police said as he was charged yesterday with four new counts of first-degree murder, bringing to 15 the number of women he is accused of killing.
The 52-year-old pig farmer, who says he can no longer afford a proper legal defence, showed little emotion yesterday during a court appearance by video hookup from jail, saying only three words -- "Yes, I can" -- in response to a question about whether he could hear the proceedings.
The long-time resident of this suburb east of Vancouver is now charged with four more murders than were committed by Canada's most prolific serial killer, Clifford Olson. Olson was convicted of killing 11 British Columbia children in 1980 and 1981.
Mr. Pickton's alleged victims vanished between 1996 and November, 2001. They are from a list of 63 women, largely prostitutes and drug addicts, who disappeared from the streets of the Downtown Eastside since the mid-1980s.
"This case is now the largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history," RCMP Constable Cate Galliford said at a news conference yesterday.
The new charges against Mr. Pickton relate to women who vanished between 1997 and 2001. They are Heather Chinnock, 30 when last seen in April, 2001; Inga Hall, 46 when last seen in 1998; Tanya Holyk, 23 when last seen in 1996; and Sherry Irving, who was 24 when last seen in 1997.
At least 91 police officers, archaeology students and support workers are involved in a search of the farm property where Mr. Pickton, who is single, lived with his brother, David. Scientists are processing the material for DNA evidence that police say has been crucial to the case. Human remains have been found on the farm.
In a surprise move yesterday, Mr. Pickton's lawyer declared that his client is in a "financial press" and will need government help paying for a defence that will require adding four lawyers to the team of two already on the case.
Peter Ritchie said his client had the ability to cover his costs when he was first charged in February, soon after police sealed off his property and began a search that will last into next year.
"As the case has progressed and it has become much more complicated, it's beyond his ability to do that," he told reporters.
Mr. Pickton's lawyers are negotiating a deal with the province that would see their client turn over his assets in return for financial help.
If the deal cannot be worked out, Mr. Ritchie said he will seek a judicial order that could delay the case, which was set to proceed to a preliminary hearing on Nov. 4.
Mr. Ritchie said he needs extra lawyers to keep the case on track. "We don't want to get into a situation where we don't have enough lawyers on it so the court starts to drag on," he said.
Geoff Plant, British Columbia's Attorney-General, said he agreed two lawyers are not enough for Mr. Pickton's defence, describing the case yesterday as "increasingly complex."
"We're going to work with Mr. Ritchie to see if we can reach agreement on an arrangement that will ensure that Mr. Pickton has the opportunity of a full and fair defence without unreasonably burdening the taxpayers," Mr. Plant said.
Talks on the issue have been under way since late summer, he said.
"The context within which the discussions began has changed even since then as the number of charges has increased, so we have to make sure we are examining the situation as it exists today."
Mr. Pickton, his brother and sister have reportedly made millions of dollars by selling off and developing about 10 hectares of the 16-hectare property in Port Coquitlam they inherited from their parents.
The farm property, now the focus of the police search, has been assessed at about $3-million. Mr. Ritchie has reportedly placed a $375,000 lien on the property.
Mr. Ritchie yesterday refused to discuss specifics of his client's financial situation.
Before yesterday, Mr. Pickton was charged in the deaths of Mona Wilson, Diane Rock, Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Heather Bottomley, Brenda Wolfe, Jacqueline McDonell, Helen Mae Hallmark, Georgina Papin, Jennifer Furminger and Patricia Rose Johnson.
Patrician Rose Johnson
Mr. Ritchie said his client is eager to face the courts.
Yesterday's hearing also dealt with fears that U.S. journalists might violate the ban on publication that is routine in preliminary hearings. Mr. Pickton's is set for three months, starting on Nov. 4.
"In this media-deluged world, a ban on publication in Canada may not prevent the deleterious impact downstream with respect to the integrity of the process," Mr. Ritchie told Judge David Stone.
Lawyers on both sides of the case are concerned that U.S. reporters, especially those from Seattle and Washington state, may reveal details of the case in reports that would be broadcast into Canada and taint the pool of possible jurors in Mr. Pickton's eventual trial.
The risk would be eliminated if the Crown decided to proceed by a direct indictment, essentially short-circuiting a preliminary hearing and routing the case straight to trial. Mr. Plant said the possibility is being considered.
Mr. Ritchie said he might propose that U.S. media be forced to sign a written pledge that they would not publish or broadcast reports on the case.
"If they refuse to do that, then I am going to be asking that the judge should not allow them to be in our courtroom so we here in Canada can protect our legal system," he said.
At one point, Judge Stone suggested the preliminary hearing begin tomorrow with the calling of witnesses as a test to see whether U.S. media outlets would respect the publication ban.
"That would bring the issue to a head in a practical way," Judge Stone said.
Following a break, Mr. Ritchie said the idea was tempting, but he would not proceed with it, although a hearing is set for tomorrow on various motions.
© Copyright 2002 National Post
Updated: January 01, 2007