Families brace for Pickton trial

Relatives express anger, frustration as jury selection gets under way in sensational case

VANCOUVER -- They have waited for years for the start of the trial of Robert Pickton on charges of murdering their daughter, Marnie Frey.

But as the process of jury selection for the Pickton trial begins today, Lynn and Rick Frey are angrier than ever.

Time heals nothing, Mr. Frey said in an interview from his home on Vancouver Island.

They had to push the authorities to investigate their daughter's disappearance in 1997, he said. They had to prod officials to find out what happened to their daughter after Mr. Pickton was arrested in 2002.

Now they are fighting over whether the coroner can issue a death certificate and when their daughter's remains will be handed over to them.

The Freys want to know how she died and whether she suffered. "Where is she? Can we get her remains so we can carry on with our life?" Mr. Frey said.

The family has been told her remains will not be available until after the court case.

"It keeps going through our mind, why the hell not?" he said. "We do not know where our daughter's remains are. Locked up in some little closet in some warehouse or something, probably."

Lynn Frey said she is looking for accountability, for justice, her stepdaughter's remains and a death certificate.

"Then I will feel relief and I'll be done. Until then, nothing has changed," Ms. Frey said.

The sensational case moves into a new phase with the start of the selection of the jury, almost five years after Mr. Pickton was arrested in February, 2002.

Mr. Pickton, 57, has been charged with murder in the deaths of 26 women. Most of them worked as street prostitutes in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, one of the country's poorest neighbourhoods.

If convicted on all charges, Mr. Pickton would become one of the worst serial killers in North American history. British Columbia Supreme Court Judge James Williams in August decided a trial on 26 murder charges would impose "an unreasonable burden" on jury members. He split up the charges into two groups. A trial involving six of the murder charges begins on Jan. 8.

The six women were Ms. Frey, Andrea Joesbury, Mona Wilson, Sereena Abotsway, Georgina Papin and Brenda Wolfe.

The trial is expected to stir deep passions that have been muted since Mr. Pickton's arrest, mostly as a result of a court order that kept details of the deaths and the tepid police investigation out of the public eye.

Mr. Pickton, a pig farmer in the Vancouver bedroom community of Port Coquitlam, was arrested after a huge public outcry over the disappearance of dozens of women during the previous decade. Grisly media accounts of events have already attracted international attention, inspired emotional songs and been retold in film.

The search for 12 impartial jurors begins this morning under tight security with as many as 600 people expected at the courthouse in New Westminster. Mr. Pickton, who has been in custody since his arrest, will watch the proceedings from the prisoner's box.

After opening remarks from Judge Williams, the pool of prospective jurors will be divided into smaller groups and told to return beginning Monday morning.

Judge Williams has said he anticipates that almost everyone who will be called as a potential juror will have been exposed to substantial reporting of events and the investigation that led up to the trial.

However, the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that a juror's mind is not required to be a blank slate and jurors are not required to jettison all opinions when they step into the jury box.

The law in Canada is in marked contrast to the familiar features of the U.S. law, as portrayed on television and reflected in several high-profile cases.

The U.S. system treats all members of the jury pool as suspect at first glance. The U.S. allows for pretrial publication bans to protect the jury pool from pretrial publicity. As a result, prospective jurors can be subjected to much more extensive questioning than is permitted in Canada, often of a highly personal nature.

Canada allows for pretrial publication bans. The court presumes the trial process and the judge's instruction to the jury, along with limited questioning of prospective jurors, will result in chosen jurors being able to set aside any biases so they can reach a verdict based solely on the evidence heard in court.

Friends and relatives of the dead women do not speak with one voice. Some have gone on with their lives, while others remain steeped in every aspect of the case and said in interviews they were bracing for what they might hear during the trial.

Some refused to speak to the media; others wanted to talk about their frustration with the slow pace of the court system.

"It's going to be nice to have some kind of an ending," said Jack Cummer, the grandfather of Ms. Joesbury, who disappeared in June, 2001, at age 22.

However, Mr. Cummer expressed concern for those who expected the trial to provide "closure" to their daughter's or granddaughter's death.

"They will not really get closure with a situation like this. That's crazy. That is between me and God. That is where it all comes from," he said.

Mr. Cummer, who tried unsuccessfully to launch a fundraising campaign for a safe house for abused women, was also skeptical about public expressions of support and sympathy for the plight of the women.

He wondered whether parents were using rumours linked to the case to scare their children into behaving better.

"Parents probably say to their children, 'if you don't behave yourself, you are going to be just like those drunken girls down in the Eastside of Vancouver,' " he said.

The women were portrayed for years in the media "as such rotten individuals, drug-addicted prostitutes," he said.

More recently, the women are presented as murdered children, he added.

"But I don't think the public is the least bit interested in them," Mr. Cummer said. "I think they should just get the trial over with."

Ken Garley, a foster parent to Mona Wilson for several years, has little patience for the slow pace of justice.

"This has been going on for far too long," he said in an interview. "It should have been over a long time ago."

Ms. Wilson was last seen in November, 2001. She was 26.

Mr. Garley, 76, remembers his final conversation with Ms. Wilson about a month before she disappeared. Ms. Wilson was upbeat, optimistic about positive changes in her life.

But he tries not to think about the case in court.

"You cannot sit there and dwell on it. If you start dwelling on it, you may want to take matters in your own hands," he said.

Wayne Leng pushed authorities in the late 1990s to search for his friend Sarah de Vries and for other missing women. He moved away from Vancouver in 2000, but has remained in contact with the families of numerous missing women.

With a comprehensive website that posts up-to-date news, he is probably among the most familiar with the issues related to the missing women.

However even he has become exhausted by the protracted process. "It's burn-out," he said.

"It's been going on for 10 years. It just sort of never ends. Look at this trial that could last up to a year, and then another trial [for the remaining 20 charges]. It's numbing."

He described the current mood among the families as sombre.

"There's a stress level, anxiety, pain and suffering. And now with the trial, the families have been warned what to expect, have been told it is going to be horrible and advised not to go," he said.

Mr. Frey said he was "disgusted" with how the families have been treated.

"It is just not what you would expect for families who have been put through this traumatic tragedy," he said.

He recalled being in the courtroom during the preliminary hearing, when the court was considering whether the evidence was sufficient for the murder charges to go to trial. They were not given any warning about what was going to be presented in court.

"They should have said this next person will talk about your daughter. If you want to stay here, fine, but just be ready. When [the lawyer] got up and said what they found, my wife just about collapsed."

Susanne Dahlin, spokesperson for the victim services program, said the provincial government has a team of support workers for victims of crime.

The program paid expenses for family members to attend court for five days during the pretrial phase. Officials are considering changes for the trial itself.

But victim services staff cannot warn families about what is going to come up in court, she said. The process is unpredictable, changing often as the trial proceeds.

Mr. Frey said he expected more from the government's victim services program, especially in helping arrange grief counsellors. He said he remains bitter. His daughter's death is always going through his mind.

"There is not a day goes by you do not think about it. And then some days are even worse," he said.

Pickton timeline

Feb. 14, 1991

First annual women's day memorial march is organized to press for police investigation into missing women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.


Sudden increase in number of women disappearing.

Aug. 30, 1997

Marnie Frey, 27, disappears.


Another sudden increase in the number of missing women. Families and relatives raise alarm about a possible serial killer in the Downtown Eastside. Vancouver police review files of missing women going back to 1971; announce they do not believe a serial killer is behind the disappearances.

March, 1999

Georgina Papin and Brenda Wolfe disappear.

April 28, 1999

In response to public concern, Vancouver Police Board offers a $100,000-reward for information about 27 women who had gone missing since 1978.


Another spike in the number of missing women. Andrea Joesbury, 22, last seen on June 5, 2001; Sereena Abotsway, 29, last seen in July, 2001; Mona Wilson, 26, last seen on Dec. 1, 2001.

February, 2002

Feb 5: Police begin search of Pickton property for unregistered firearms, abruptly stop the search and return the following day with a search warrant for items related to the missing women.

Feb 7: Pickton charged with possession of unregistered firearms.

Feb 23: Pickton is charged with the murders of Mona Wilson and Sereena Abotsway.

April 9, 2002

Pickton is charged with the murder of Andrea Joesbury.

May 22, 2002

Pickton is charged with the murder of Brenda Wolfe.

Sept. 19, 2002

Pickton is charged with the murder of Georgina Papin.

May 25, 2005

Police announce more murder charges, including the murder of Marnie Frey. Pickton now faces 27 murder charges

Jan. 30, 2006

Pickton pleads not guilty to 26 charges of murder.

March 2, 2006

Judge rules that vague wording about the timing of death of an unidentified woman called Jane Doe does not allow Pickton to defend himself properly; Murder charge is dismissed, reducing the number of murder charges to 26.

Aug. 9, 2006

Judge splits the case into a group of six charges and a group of 20 charges.

Sept. 8, 2006

Prosecution says it will go ahead in a first trial with six charges of murder in the deaths of Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury, Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson.

Dec. 9, 2006

Potential jury members called to courthouse for selection process.

Jan. 8, 2007

Trial before jury to begin.


Jury selection

How the search for 12 impartial jurors will be conducted in the Robert Pickton case:

Saturday, Dec. 9:

Sheriff's office sends out 3,500 summonses to people chosen at random from the voters' list.

Six hundred people expected to show up at the courthouse; they are to be seated in locations throughout the building and linked by video to the Pickton courtroom.

The judge will make a few opening remarks; Robert Pickton to be formally charged with six murders; he enters a plea.

The name of each prospective juror is written on a card. The cards are put in a box and thoroughly shaken. The court clerk draws cards from the box.

As names are drawn, the individuals take a seat in the courtroom. Once a group of 30 is gathered, the judge tells them when to return and they leave. The entire group of 600 is processed in that fashion.

Monday, Dec. 11:

The first group of 30 returns at 9:30 a.m. The process is held in open court with Mr. Pickton in the prisoner's box but a publication ban prohibits the media from providing contemporary reports of the court proceedings. Persons are excused if a year-long trial would be a hardship, if they could be in conflict because they know someone involved with the trial, or if they are viewed as not impartial.

Each person fills out a questionnaire to determine whether serving on the jury is a hardship. The questions deal with family, financial and health considerations. The prospective jurors are shown a list of names of persons connected to the case and the police investigation to identify any conflicts.

The group picks two people to serve as "initial triers" who will play a role in the process of challenging the impartiality of prospective jurors.

Each prospective juror appears before the judge who asks whether he or she faces any hardship. If not, the judge asks questions, formulated by the prosecution and defence lawyers, intended to determine whether he or she is impartial.

The initial triers listen to the answers and decide whether the person is acceptable as a juror. If acceptable to the initial triers, the prospective juror is evaluated by the defence and the prosecution without any further questioning or comment. Each side can reject 22 prospective jurors.

If the prospective juror is not challenged, he or she goes to sit in the jury box and is sworn as a member of the jury. The first juror replaces one of the two initial triers, who returns to the jury pool. The second person selected as a juror takes over for the remaining initial trier.

The process is repeated until 12 people are selected as jurors and two more as alternates. The alternates remain as part of the jury until the trial begins on Jan. 8, 2007. At least 10 jurors are required for the trial to continue to verdict. If more than two jurors drop out during the year as a result of illness or any other reason, the proceeding will be declared a mistrial.

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Courtesy of
The Globe and Mail



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Updated: August 21, 2016