Pickton hearing begins

Accused killer takes notes as Crown prosecutors begin to reveal evidence against him

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Relatives of Vancouver's missing women, reporters from across North America and curious spectators crowded into a Port Coquitlam courtroom Monday to hear the start of the Crown's case against accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton.

Vancouver Sun / Courtroom sketch shows Robert William Pickton during the preliminary hearing of his trial.

But a sweeping ban on publication of evidence at the preliminary hearing means only those physically present know what is being alleged.

All the 100 or so seats in the courtroom were taken and extra sheriffs were on hand for crowd control throughout the day.

For Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn is among 63 women missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the start of evidence Monday made him realize just how long the court proceedings against Pickton are going to continue.

"I can see now why it may go on for a long, long time," Crey said. "But that is the nature of how evidence is prepared."

Throughout the day, Pickton reacted to what was being presented in court. Sometimes smirking or smiling, he also took notes on a yellow pad for part of the day and read through a large binder during some of the evidence.

Crey said he found Pickton to be much more animated than usual as he sat in the prisoner's dock behind bullet-proof plexiglass.

"So far, he has just been an image in the media," Crey said of Pickton. "I noticed for the first time he was really reacting. His body was moving. He had a notepad and was listening very attentively.

Pickton had on a new beige and navy-striped sweater with a crest in the middle and looked around the courtroom several times. He also chatted repeatedly with the sheriff who sat beside him.

The 53-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in recent years. Relatives of another four women have been notified their loved ones' DNA has been found on Pickton's property, although no charges have been laid.

Two Crown prosecutors and three defence lawyers were on hand Monday.

Crown spokesman Geoffrey Gaul sat among the spectators.

Outside court, Gaul explained what was occurring in court, but could not provide details because of the ban on publication.

"The expectation is that the Crown will be presenting its evidence. At this point in time, we are in a voir dire, which is commonly referred to as a trial within a trial, to determine the admissibility of certain evidence," Gaul said. "The preliminary inquiry is going to carry on four days a week until the beginning of May."

Pickton's lead defence lawyer Peter Ritchie also made a few comments outside court about how the defence team was planning to organize itself for the months-long hearing.

He also said he intended to carefully watch American media outlets to see if they are violating the ban on publication.

"The judge made it clear in his ruling earlier that if publication occurs in such a fashion, we should draw it to his attention and he can take whatever steps are necessary," Ritchie said.

"It's unusual in this case that it's receiving the attention that it is and we have to be concerned about that. I think the police authorities have been alerted to that and they no doubt will monitor that."

By mid-evening, one Seattle-based television station had published some details of the evidence on its Internet Web site, even though all Seattle TV outlets planned to block cable signals of their newscasts from coming into B.C.

Ritchie earlier requested that the preliminary hearing be closed to the public for fear of evidence leaking out and tainting the potential jury pool.

But Judge David Stone said he didn't think the courtroom should be closed at this stage, although he said he would revisit the issue if there was a problem.

Pickton has been in custody since last February, when he was charged with the murders of Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson.

An unprecedented investigation on his Dominion Avenue property led to the laying of 13 additional charges in the deaths of Diane Rock, Jacquilene McDonell, Heather Bottomley, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Jennifer Furminger, Helen Hallmark, Patricia Johnson, Georgina Papin, Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving and Inga Hall.

Sandra Gagnon has been at many of Pickton's court appearances over the last 11 months. Her sister Janet Henry has been missing for five and a half years.

Gagnon found Monday a harder than usual court day.

And she noticed other family members in the courtroom seemed strained by the day's events.

"I seen a family member in there and it looked pretty hard for her and I wanted to go up and give her a hug," Gagnon said. It is hard for all of us. It is a very difficult thing. I have never had to deal with something like this in my life." 

 Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun

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Updated: August 21, 2016