This artist's drawing of alleged serial killer Robert Pickton was done Jan. 11, 2002, in court at Port Coquitlam, B.C., during an appearance to complete details for his preliminary hearing. He is charged with 15 murders of missing Vancouver women, dating back to 1996.
Flash: The missing women  
Mystery to lift (Jan. 13)  
Shedding some light on 'Willy' (Jan. 10)  
Pickton faces four more charges (Oct. 2)  
Another missing woman's DNA found (Sept. 17)  
List of missing women grows (Mar. 29)  
Investigation could last year: police (Mar. 21)  
B.C. watchdog won't probe case (Mar. 19)  

Bulletproof glass shields Pickton
Hearing begins for accused killer


Tuesday, January 14, 2003

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. With relatives of his alleged victims watching intently in the courtroom, the man accused of being Canada's worst serial killer yesterday began to hear details of the case against him.

Robert William Pickton, 53, who is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder, was dressed in a grey sweater with black horizontal stripes and a crest on the chest.

He sat behind a bulletproof glass enclosure as the hearing began in provincial court, took notes on a yellow legal pad, occasionally smiled and chatted with a sheriff and listened attentively as his preliminary hearing began.

He paid closer attention to the proceedings yesterday than he had in previous court appearances as legal arguments gave way to the allegations he faces.

"He's anxious for the matter to get ahead, as he has been for some time," Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, told reporters outside court. "Finally, we're able to do that."

The pig farmer has been thrust into the international spotlight since police began searching his property in this suburb, 35 kilometres east of Vancouver, last February in connection with dozens of women missing from the city's downtown eastside.

The 15 women Pickton is accused of killing as far back as 1996 are among 61 predominantly drug addicts and prostitutes missing from Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood since the late 1970s.

Pickton has been in custody since his arrest in late February as the search continues on his property and the charges against him have mounted.

As during previous hearings, Pickton did not make eye contact with those watching from the gallery.

Crown attorney Mike Petrie chose not to make an opening statement outlining his case. Instead, the hearing immediately began dealing with the admissibility of videotape evidence, which gave people the chance to hear Pickton's voice for the first time.

The grandparents of one alleged victim sighed deeply upon hearing it, the man patting the hand of the woman beside him and asking: "Are you all right?" She nodded.

Sandra Gagnon, whose sister, Janet Henry, is among the missing but unaccounted for, said it was "eerie" hearing Pickton's voice.

"It gives me the creeps," Gagnon told reporters. "I feel really uncomfortable."

Ernie Crey, whose sister, Dawn, is missing and unaccounted for, also spoke of the voice.

"He sounds to be a soft-spoken person," Crey told reporters. "He didn't sound to be an excitable character. He seemed a rather quiet individual, unassuming."

Crey said even though it's going to be tough to sit through some of the testimony, for many families of missing women there's a sense of relief that evidence is coming out.

"It's been an arduous journey to this point in time," he said.

The preliminary hearing, which moved into the evidence stage yesterday, is expected to last until at least early May and perhaps into the summer. It is being held to see if the crown has enough evidence for the case to move on to trial.

Although the evidence is the subject of a publication ban, there was an air of anticipation outside the courthouse. Ninety minutes before the day's proceedings started, reporters and cameras from Canadian and American television stations were broadcasting live.

While Canadian media outlets are expected to respect the publication ban, there's widespread anticipation that American television stations and newspapers will not. Even though broadcasts into Canada will be blacked out, the defence fears that potential jurors could be tainted by learning details of the case via Web sites of U.S. media.

"I remind our American friends that it's against our laws here to speak about evidence at a preliminary hearing," said Ritchie, who last month unsuccessfully argued the preliminary hearing should be closed because of evidence of "an exceedingly grim nature."

Crown spokesperson Geoffrey Gaul said at this point there's an expectation all media "will respect the ban" but warned that reporting will be monitored for breaches.

"If there are any, it will be an issue for the police to investigate."

Inside the courthouse, those wanting to hear proceedings were required to clear airport-style security and have a ticket for one of the roughly 100 seats in the public gallery.

All 28 assigned media seats were filled by reporters from outlets across Canada and internationally, including Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and the BBC.

The only seats that went unfilled were the 40 or so set aside for the families and friends of the alleged victims as well as those whose loved ones are among the missing women.

Additional articles by Daniel Girard

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Updated: August 21, 2016