Pickton lawyer in court to try and force government to fund defence

Canadian Press

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

VANCOUVER (CP) - Lawyers defending accused serial killer Robert Pickton say they will have to sort through 200,000 DNA samples, prepare cross-examination of 37 expert witnesses and hire private detectives to delve in the backgrounds of civilian witnesses to prepare for his trial. Pickton can't afford to pay for that kind of defence and, so far, the government hasn't offered any funding, his lead lawyer, Peter Ritchie said Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court.

Ritchie has filed an application to try and force the government to provide the money.

"It became clear as the counts were being laid . .  that it's absolutely impossible for two people to deal with this case," Ritchie told Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm.

"I would think so," was Dohm's response.

Pickton, 52, is charged with the first-degree murders of 15 women missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Police say it is the largest serial-killing investigation in Canada.

His preliminary hearing is set to begin Nov. 4 but Ritchie has threatened to resign from the case if a deal for funding is not reached with the Attorney General's Ministry by the end of the week.

According to court documents, Pickton's brother has informed him he doesn't have the money.

Pickton is willing to turn over all his assets, "down to his shoelaces," Ritchie said.

That would include the suburban Vancouver farm a joint RCMP-Vancouver city police task force has been searching since February. They expect to be there for many months to come, as investigators, archeologists and anthropologists pore over every inch of ground looking for evidence.

"We have learned there is something like 200,000 DNA samples," Ritchie told the court.

Ritchie said the Crown will be calling expert witnesses from toxicologists to document experts, blood spatter experts to odontologists and archeologists.

It's an enormous case, he said.

"Just the very volume of it is astounding," he told Dohm.

Sixty-three women - including one transsexual - have gone missing from the streets of the Downtown Eastside since 1978. Thirty-eight of those women - all drug-addicted sex-trade workers - have gone missing in the last six years.

The lawyer for the ministry said they are awaiting more information concerning 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."

Ritchie said he will need a team of six lawyers.

Back when Pickton faced just four murder charges, a preliminary hearing was scheduled to take place from Nov. 4 to mid-February next year.

"The additional counts will no doubt add to the length of the preliminary hearing," Ritchie said.

Asked what will happen if more counts are added after the preliminary hearing begins, Ritchie said the Crown has indicated to him that they, too, are concerned about how to proceed in that situation.

"I have enough problems in this case without having to worry about that," Ritchie said.

He does not want to skip the preliminary hearing, which would give the defence an opportunity to "have a look" at the Crown case before trial.

Nor does Ritchie want the court process delayed.

"Our client is in custody. He's unlikely to get out, obviously," he told Dohm.

Dohm adjourned the application with a clear mandate for the two parties to reach an agreement.

"I don't intend to let this go on very long," he said.

Attorney General Geoff Plant said there's a likelihood that there will be some funding.

The state has an obligation to provide funds if an accused cannot make full answer and defence to charges brought against them, Plant said in Victoria.

"Our criminal process is about affording people the right to a fair trial," he said. "That obligation sometimes means the state also has to help provide the funds for the defence."

 Copyright  2002 The Canadian Press

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