Pickton will stand trial for 15 murders

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. - A former pig farmer accused of being the country's worst serial killer will stand trial on 15 counts of first-degree murder, a provincial court judge ruled Wednesday.

It took Provincial Court Justice David Stone 30 minutes to render his decision to commit Robert (Willy) Pickton to trial on 15 counts of first-degree murder. (Global BC)

Judge David Stone committed Robert (Willy) Pickton to stand trial in B.C. Supreme Court on the murder counts following a preliminary hearing that began in January and heard from dozens of police and civilian witnesses.

The charges against Pickton, 53, are in connection with a long list of women, most of whom disappeared over the past 20 years from a stroll area preferred by hookers in the rough-and-tumble Downtown Eastside.

The preliminary hearing, which took place under a customary publication ban, was to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

No trial date has been set, but it likely won't begin until at least sometime next year.

Some family members of the missing women were in the packed courtroom to hear Stone's decision.

Pickton appeared in court with his formerly long hair cut to above his collar. He sat quietly looking down as the judge delivered his half-hour ruling.

'We've come to that place now where a very important plateau has been reached,' said Ernie Crey, brother of one of the missing women. 'He's going to trial, and I was pleased to hear that.' (Global BC)

"I find that the test for committal has been met," Stone said.

The judge said had the preliminary started a month later than it did, he would have been able to commit him on 22 charges.

Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn is on the list of missing women, stopped for reporters outside the courtroom and asked for a moment to get his emotions in check "because of what I heard."

"The information was read in a very matter-of-fact way. It shocked me. It staggered me. It troubled me a great deal."

The notorious case was ignited by a massive police raid on a farm owned by Pickton and his brother and sister Feb. 6, 2002. Pickton was charged with the first two murders Feb. 22, 2002.

A large part of the property is surrounded by subdivisions that have been built in the last few years.

The property is located near the confluence of the Pitt and Fraser Rivers, a 45-minute drive east of Vancouver.

Investigators who spent over a year searching farm properties co-owned by Pickton have turned their attention to a piece of marshy wetland in Mission, B.C. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam)

Last weekend, police announced that they had expanded their search in connection with the missing women's case to a wetlands area near Mission in the Fraser Valley.

The new area, located on a section of land belonging to the Kwantlen First Nation, is about three football fields long and 50 metres wide.

Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, said his client would appear in B.C. Supreme Court on Sept. 11 where lawyers would discuss fixing a trial date.

"We expected it to go to trial," Ritchie said. "It's certainly no surprise. It looks like a long, complicated trial."

Crown lawyer Mike Petrie wouldn't speculate on when the trial might begin but said both sides will proceed even if the search of Pickton's farm is still under way.

The charges against Pickton are four more than the number admitted to by Canada's most notorious serial killer, Clifford Olson.

Pickton is charged with the murders of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Diane Rock, Jacqueline McDonell, Heather Bottomley, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Jennifer Furminger, Helen Hallmark, Patricia Johnson, Georgina Papin, Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving and Inga Hall.

The last of the initial 15 charges was laid in October 2002.

The 15 victims were among a total that eventually rose to 63 missing women from the Downtown Eastside -- mostly drug-addicted prostitutes -- who disappeared from the blighted area.

While some of the women were reported missing almost immediately, others weren't noticed until weeks and sometimes months after they disappeared.

The investigation into the disappearances was also hampered because Vancouver city police, initially in charge until the RCMP joined them last fall, didn't put enough resources into the effort.

In March, the missing women's task force announced it was doubling the number of anthropology specialists searching the 5.6-hectare farm property, located a short drive from the courthouse.

Their job is to thoroughly search the thousands of tonnes of soil on the entire property, looking for evidence such as bone fragments and any DNA.

It's expected the investigation on the farm, which has been underway continuously since February 2002, could last at least until autumn.

Pickton, known by those close to him as Willy, has been in custody since late February 2002, when he was indicted for the murders of Abotsway and Wilson.

Several weeks later, as police continued to dig and search for evidence on the sprawling Port Coquitlam property and the public braced for more gruesome news, the names of Rock, McDonell and Bottomley were added to the list of charges.

Then between April and October last year, 10 more names were added.

The charges against Pickton are four more than the number admitted to by Canada's most notorious serial killer, Clifford Olson.

 Copyright 2003 The Canadian Press

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Updated: August 21, 2016