Legal arguments begin in B.C. court Monday in trial of accused serial killer

Greg Joyce
Canadian Press

Sunday, January 29, 2006

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. (CP) - Four years after his arrest and the subsequent laying of 27 charges of first-degree murder, the case against accused serial killer Robert Pickton enters a new stage Monday when legal arguments delve into what evidence is admissible.

This is a artist's drawing of Robert Pickton appearing on a video to B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, Wednesday, May 25, 2005. (CP/Jane Wolsack)

Although the arguments in B.C. Supreme Court could take months and will take place under a publication ban, Monday marks the formal start of the trial of Pickton, a 56-year-old who has remained a mystery to the media and the public despite being accused of being Canada's worst serial killer.

His lawyer, Peter Ritchie, has confirmed in an interview with the Globe and Mail that Pickton will also enter a not-guilty plea on Monday. Ritchie could not be reached for comment on the weekend.

Lynn Frey of Campbell River, whose stepdaughter Marnie Frey is among the 27 women Pickton is accused of killing, said the long wait for a trial has been "pure hell."

"She's been missing since 1997 and it's been four years since his arrest," said Frey. "I just want this to be over so we can carry on with our life because it's been such a prolonged episode."

Pickton has been in custody for almost four years. He was committed by a provincial court judge to stand trial following a preliminary hearing in 2003.

The accused is largely a mystery to the public because he has seldom been seen and has said virtually nothing since his arrest.

He appeared in court daily during his preliminary hearing but only responded with short answers when asked if he could hear the proceedings.

Prior to his arrest, Pickton lived on a seven-hectare property in Port Coquitlam, about a 45-minute drive east of Vancouver. He was involved in several businesses on the property.

During brief court appearances in 2004 and 2005, he remained in custody and appeared by videolink. Again, he gave only brief affirmative answers when asked if he could hear the proceedings.

He is accused of killing women who were mostly from the rough-tumble Downtown Eastside. More than 60 have disappeared from the neighbourhood since the early 1980s.

Wayne Leng, who was a friend of Sarah de Vries - a woman whom Pickton is accused of killing - has kept a website devoted to the missing women for several years.

He said some family members of some victims may attend at different times as the legal arguments move forward.

"They (relatives) are looking for the main trial," said Leng, who now resides in San Bernardino, Calif.

"It's such a huge deal and it's been going on for so long. It's creating a lot of anxiety and suffering for all those involved."

Pickton, who was expected to be in court for the legal arguments, has not yet elected whether to be tried by jury or judge alone.

There will be tight security and an expected throng of reporters at B.C. Supreme Court on Monday when lawyers for Pickton's defence team and the Crown begin the legal arguments in what is known as the voir dire portion of the trial.

"Monday will be the start of the voir dires and they are hearings before a court to determine admissibility of evidence," Crown spokesman Stan Lowe said.

"A voir dire is held in the absence of the jury and the evidence at a voir dire is subject usually to a publication ban."

That means reporters attending the voir dire arguments cannot publish or broadcast anything said in the courtroom.

Lowe said the judge, after hearing various legal arguments from both sides, will make rulings "with respect to what evidence is admissible and can be placed before the jury."

"Once that is set aside the process will then involve the picking of a jury and the trial will commence."

"What we anticipate is that the voir dires will last several months," said Lowe.

Mark JanVrem, a spokesman for Sheriff Services and the Pickton trial, said there appeared to be little media interest from outside Greater Vancouver in the coming stage of the trial.

He said he believed many media outlets were waiting for the portion of the trial to begin in which evidence can be published.

Pickton was committed to stand trial on 15 murder counts following the preliminary hearing. But in May 2005, the number of first-degree murder charges was increased to 27.

 The Canadian Press 2006

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