Pickton lawyer argues legal aid needed to fight 'voluminous' case

200,000 DNA samples, dozens of experts involved, he says

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Thursday, October 10, 2002

The evidence gathered by police against accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton includes 200,000 DNA samples, his lawyer told B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday.

In the first public glimpse of the case against Pickton, Peter Ritchie also said that Crown prosecutors intend to call 37 forensic experts to testify against his client, including specialists in blood splatter patterns, DNA, toxicology, biology, chemistry, odontology and archeology.

Ritchie said the case, which police describe as the largest serial murder investigation in Canadian history, is so "voluminous" that his client needs government funding to hire four additional lawyers, experts and detectives.

"There are experts in many different scientific fields as far as the evidence is concerned and we need advice from as many different experts," Ritchie said outside court.

Ritchie made a formal application before Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm Wednesday to have the charges against his client stayed unless government funding comes in time to fully prepare the case before the preliminary hearing begins Nov. 4.

"This case is unique," Ritchie said. "Just the very volume of it is quite astounding."

Pickton, a 52-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer, has so far been charged with killing 15 women on the list of 63 who have disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in recent years.

Ritchie also said that he doesn't know whether additional charges are still in the works against Pickton, saying "I have enough problems in this case without having to worry about that."

Outside court, Ritchie said he is going to need a person on his defence team designated to review evidence regarding the DNA samples which in itself is a lengthy undertaking.

Dohm adjourned Pickton's application and said both sides should get together and work out a compromise, coming back to him only in the event of a stalemate.

He also suggested the case could be delayed or proceed by direct indictment, bypassing the preliminary hearing process. Ritchie said neither solution would benefit his client.

"I will babysit this case," Dohm promised Ritchie, adding: "Nobody would expect you to run this case on your own or with one or two others."

Dohm said the case is so massive that some government money for the defence is inevitable.

"I think it's obvious that this sort of case is not one that can reasonably be thought to be self-funded," Dohm said.

A lawyer for the ministry of the attorney-general told the court that the reason no funding agreement has been reached is because Pickton's lawyer has not turned over requested documentation about Pickton's financial situation.

"The onus is on the applicant," Silvia Martorana said. "They're coming to the government asking for what, potentially, is a lot of money."

She said Pickton's lawyers had simply filed an affidavit from their client, in which Pickton comments "my brother has told me I don't have much money."

Ritchie told reporters afterwards that he is happy Dohm has agreed to remain involved during the negotiations.

"I am glad Judge Dohm is on it. I think Judge Dohm can knock heads. He is pretty good at it," Ritchie said.

But he said he still has no offer of funding from the government and has other lawyers waiting before committing to participate on the defence team.

"The difficulty is that it is taking so long, it is very difficult to try and prepare a case and bring other lawyers on stream and do all the work that we have to do," Ritchie said. "We have to negotiate what that is going to be and I wanted to get on with that as soon as possible."

He said he will talk to his client and await a call from government negotiators before deciding on whether to act on his earlier threat to withdraw from the case by Friday if no agreement is reached.

"If I could sit down with whoever calls the shots here, I expect we could do it quite quickly," Ritchie said.

"No matter what his assets are, no matter whether they are substantial or otherwise, they are not nearly going to be enough to meet the demands."

Pickton is the co-owner of two large tracts of land assessed at millions before the police investigation sealed it off indefinitely.

Attorney-General Geoff Plant said in an interview he is also relieved that Dohm is involved and expects the funding question to be resolved quickly.

"This is a very complex case and it wouldn't surprise me if Mr. Pickton doesn't have the ability to fund a full and fair defence," Plant said. "So the challenge is simply the hard, nitty gritty work of trying to reach some agreement that respects his constitutional right on the one hand, but also ensures we don't spend any more public dollars than we are absolutely required to spend."

Crown prosecutor Mike Petrie observed the proceedings in Supreme Court, but was not involved Wednesday.

Asked outside court about Ritchie's comments on the possibility of additional charges, Petrie said: "I think he is just sort of realistically speculating."

Petrie said he is prepared to proceed with the preliminary hearing Nov. 4 regardless of what happens in negotiations between Pickton and the government.

Petrie said he doesn't know where Ritchie came up with the specific figure about 200,000 DNA samples, but confirmed there were tens of thousands.

"There are tens of thousands of swabs -- samples to be examined, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything," Petrie said.

The joint RCMP-Vancouver Police missing women's task force first executed a search warrant on Pickton's Dominion Avenue farm last February, with the first two charges against him coming later that month. Since then, a second property has been added to the search and another 13 murder charges have been laid.

Police said last month that one of the reasons the charges against Pickton are coming sporadically is that the DNA samples being uncovered by dozens of forensic investigators have been tying up police labs for months.

"We want to go on record as recognizing the tremendous work that the various police labs are doing in this case and the long hours being put in by specialists in various branches of forensic science," RCMP Constable Catherine Galliford said at the time. "This case is also employing some of the most advanced state-of-the-art scientific techniques available."

She also outlined the detail with which investigators are combing the search areas.

"Generally speaking, in some very detailed searches, police and forensic scientists may spend days just on the entrance to a room or some other area," she said. "Searches actually can get right down to molecular details. This is why it can take a very long time to complete a search. It is also why literally, in some cases, no stone goes unturned." 

 Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun

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Updated: August 21, 2016