Lawyer for accused serial killer wants media, public banned from hearing

Canadian Press

Monday, December 02, 2002

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. (CP) - Members of the public and media must be barred from the courtroom during the preliminary hearing for accused serial killer Robert Pickton because it is the only way to guarantee a fair trial, Pickton's lawyer said Monday. "There seems to be no other solution than barring the public and media from the courtroom," Peter Ritchie told provincial court Judge David Stone.

CREDIT: (CP /Richard Lam)

Peter Ritchie, lawyer for accused serial killer Robert Pickton, talk to reporters outside B.C. Province Court. (CP /Richard Lam)

The primary concern, said Ritchie, is to ensure the eventual selection of 12 impartial jurors who would not be tainted if evidence was to leak out during the preliminary hearing.

Ritchie said his concern was not directed at Canadian media outlets who have a record of respecting publication bans that are routinely imposed when evidence is presented at preliminary hearings.

But he said U.S. media outlets have shown intense interest in the Pickton case and their broadcasts and newspapers are readily available in the Greater Vancouver area. The court has no jurisdiction over the U.S. media outlets, said Ritchie.

Members of the public also have access to Internet Web sites and it might be difficult if not impossible to trace the origins of evidence at a preliminary hearing that ended up on the Internet, he said.

"The purpose is to ensure that the case goes forward properly. The concern is that media coverage in this case is as intense as it can be in this society," Ritchie said as he drew the judge's attention to the large contingent of Canadian and U.S. media in the courtroom, including representatives of The Associated Press, the Washington Post and the Hollywood Reporter.

Ritchie expressed concern about cable bringing the potential U.S. reporting of evidence into Canada as well as the danger posed by satellites.

Anticipating arguments that an in camera hearing might be regarded as holding the hearing in "secret," Ritchie said transcripts are kept of the proceedings and they would be available when a verdict is reached at the trial.

Pickton, a Port Coquitlam pig farmer, is charged with killing 15 women who are among 64 identified as missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Ritchie said the nature of the case - the number of murder counts - "will seek the most intense media focus available."

"Temptations abound for unscrupulous media . . . and it may risk a fair trial."

As Pickton, dressed in a grey pullover and black slacks, sat expressionless in the prisoner's box behind a thick Plexiglas enclosure, Ritchie said two sections of the Criminal Code provide the judge with the power to exclude the media and public if he believes the "ends of justice would be best served."

More than 10 lawyers were present in the courtroom for the opening of legal arguments on Ritchie's application.

The judge told them that a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling prevented him from granting them intervener status to make arguments opposed to Ritchie that are based on constitutional arguments such as freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

But the judge invited them to submit written submissions as "friends of the court," a less formal means of arguing their case.

The judge instructed all counsel to discuss overnight the best means of making their submissions in the court.

Outside court, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Ministry said the counsel would discuss "whether the media submissions can be presented in a different format as opposed to granting formal intervener status."

Crown prosecutor Michael Petrie indicated he would also oppose Ritchie's application.

Lawyer David Sutherland, who represents four U.S. media outlets in the Pacific Northwest, said he intends to put forward a specific proposal that would respect the Canadian process.

"The affiliates I represent come into Canada entirely by cable," he said. "It's intended that it be blocked, that the cable be blocked."

He declined to say how U.S. information could be kept off the Internet.

"That's a matter you'll have to wait and hear about Tuesday."

While the media-related arguments began Monday, evidence was not scheduled to be presented until Jan. 13 under the required publication ban set out in the Criminal Code.

 Copyright  2002 The Canadian Press

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