Accused serial killer Robert Pickton enters not-guilty pleas in court


January 30, 2006

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. (CP) - For the first time since his arrest four years ago, accused serial killer Robert Pickton professed he is not guilty Monday to charges he killed 27 women, mostly sex-trade workers from one of Canada's poorest neighbourhoods.

The 56-year-old man spoke in a strong voice as each count of first-degree murder was read in B.C. Supreme Court, responding "Not guilty" or "Not guilty, your honour," to the charges. His answer to the first count was: "Not guilty, please."

The pleas at the formal start of his trial marked a significant milestone in the Pickton case, which has been before the courts in various pre-trial hearings since he was arrested in February 2002.

One of Pickton's lawyers, Adrian Brooks, told the court prior to the indictment being read that Pickton would not enter a plea to Count 22 - which named a woman known only as Jane Doe as one of the alleged murder victims.

On that charge, the court registered a not-guilty plea on Pickton's behalf, following a procedure spelled out in the Criminal Code.

Outside court, Pickton's lead lawyer, Peter Ritchie, said the defence would argue that there is a "flaw" in connection with that charge.

"We'll make arguments to that effect, whether it's technically proper," he said. Ritchie refused to elaborate.

He said the Crown had disclosed about 750,000 pages of material to the defence that it had to "analyze and prepare for."

After the pleas were entered, the defence and Crown began legal arguments over the admissibility of evidence. Those arguments are heard under a publication ban that is normally applied at this stage of the legal process.

Ritchie said this voir dire portion of the trial was to try "to get the trial moving ahead, to get issues resolved before the jury arrives."

Pickton has not formally elected whether he will be tried by a jury or judge alone.

Crown spokesman Stan Lowe said outside court the voir dire would likely last for several months.

"This case is unprecedented in magnitude," said Lowe, standing under a makeshift canopy and facing a barrage of cameras and microphones.

"This is truly a mega-case."

Until Monday, Pickton has hardly spoken in a number of pre-trial court appearances.

He was arrested early in 2002 by police investigating the disappearance of sex-trade workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Pickton wore white tennis shoes, jeans and a green-plaid leisure shirt in court. As the indictment was read to him, he stood and followed along, reading a copy in front of him that was held by Brooks.

The reading of the indictment and the pleas took more than 10 minutes to complete.

Pickton kept a green binder on his lap and wrote notes sporadically on a notepad.

Outside the courthouse, dozens of family members of women who went missing from the drug-riddled downtown neighbourhood held the panels of a quilt bearing the names of their loved ones.

Edna Brass of the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre said the group, which formed a long chain, wanted to raise awareness about the more than 60 sex-trade workers who have disappeared from the area since the early 1980s.

"I don't know if we will ever have answers to all the questions," Brass said. "We are here to protest what has happened. It should never have happened."

Leona Phillips, a first cousin of Sherry Irving, who Pickton is accused of murdering, said: "I want to be here to support the women."

The trial is being held in a modified courtroom, with the public gallery separated from the rest of the room by a glass partition. The prisoner's box is enclosed in glass on three sides.

Another courtroom next door has been set aside as an "overflow" facility in anticipation of large crowds wanting to attend.

Pickton has remained a mystery to the media and the public despite being accused of being Canada's worst serial killer.

He appeared in court daily during his preliminary hearing in 2003 but only responded with short answers when asked if he could hear the proceedings. He was committed to stand trial after the preliminary hearing in B.C. provincial court.

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 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.

The first day of the trial was marked by throngs of media outside the courthouse.

Complicating the already tight security measures was the fact that a large jury pool had to enter the courthouse for an unrelated trial. Several hundred people were in line, some to get into the Pickton trial and some because they were in the jury selection pool for the other trial.

Some native women beat drums outside the courtroom as hundreds of people slowly entered the building.

Everyone entering the courthouse was subjected to a screening process, similar to security checks at airports. Those entering the Pickton courtroom and the overflow courtroom set up for this trial had to undergo a second security check.

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.


Robert Pickton pleaded not guilty in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday to 27 counts of first-degree murder. The charges are in connection with:

Heather Chinnock: Born Nov. 10, 1970. Last seen April 2001 and reported missing the following June. Was convicted in 1997 of soliciting in New Westminster and Burnaby.

Inga Hall: Born Jan. 25, 1952. Last seen February 1998 and reported missing in March of the same year. News report in 1987 said Hall and another woman were charged with robbing bank in Vancouver.

Tanya Holyk: Born Dec. 8, 1975. Last seen October 1996 and reported missing in November 1997. Mother of one, she had been living with her mother.

Sherry Irving: Born March 19, 1973. Last seen April 1997 and reported missing the following March to the Stl'Atl'lmx tribal police near Pemberton. Grew up in Edmonton and Vancouver Island.

Jennifer Furminger: Born Oct. 22, 1971. Last seen Dec. 27, 1999, and reported missing March 30, 2000.

Helen Hallmark: Born June 24, 1966. Last seen June 15, 1997, and reported missing Sept. 23, 1998.

Patricia Johnson: Born Dec. 2, 1976. Last seen March 3, 2001, and reported missing May 31, 2001. Had two tattoos of a rose on the left side of her back, each with the name of her two children inside.

Georgina Papin: Born March 11, 1964. Last seen March 2, 1999, and reported missing March 14, 2001. Had done some writing and art work that contributed to her native culture.

Brenda Wolfe: Born Oct. 20, 1968. Last seen Feb. 1, 1999, and reported missing April 25, 2000.

Andrea Joesbury: Born Nov. 6, 1978. Last seen June 6, 2001, and was reported missing two days later. Her doctor reported that she had failed to pick up her methadone as part of a heroin addiction program in Downtown Eastside.

Heather Bottomley: Born Aug. 17, 1976. Last seen April 17, 2001, and reported missing the same day. Grew up in New Westminster.

Jacqueline McDonell: 26. Last seen Jan. 16, 1999, and reported missing Feb. 22, 1999. Raised in Trail, B.C. and had only lived in Vancouver a short time.

Diane Rock: 34. Last seen Nov. 23, 2001, and reported missing Nov. 30, 2001. Formerly of Welland, Ont. Moved to Vancouver with husband and three children.

Sereena Abotsway: Born Aug. 20, 1971. Last seen Aug. 1, 2001, and reported missing Aug. 22, 2001. Raised by foster parents in Surrey, B.C., where she came as a troubled four-year-old.

Mona Wilson: Born Jan. 13, 1975. Last seen Nov. 23, 2001, and reported missing Nov. 30, 2001. One of the last women added to the missing women's list. Struggled with drug addiction and life in the Downtown Eastside.

Tiffany Drew: Born Jan. 31, 1975. Last seen Dec. 31, 1999. Not reported missing until Feb. 8, 2002. Raised in Nanaimo and Port Alberni, B.C.

Marnie Frey: Born August 1973 and disappeared in Vancouver in 1997. Was known drug user and sex-trade worker on Downtown Eastside.

Cynthia Feliks: 43. Disappeared in fall of 1997. Name not added to missing women's list until four years later. Grew up in Surrey. Was a drug user who lived in Downtown Eastside.

Angela Jardine: 27 when she disappeared. Mother said she suffered oxygen deprivation at birth and had tough life growing up in Castlegar. Last seen November 1998 at symposium on drug-related social problems in Downtown Eastside.

Diane Melnick: 23 when last seen in December 1995. Also a known drug user and sex trade worker in Downtown Eastside.

Sarah Devries: Disappeared in April 1998 from area frequented by sex trade workers in Downtown Eastside. Black woman adopted by white parents and grew up city's west side. Sister Maggie wrote a book about Sarah.

Jane Doe: Name for half skull that police found in marshy area near Mission in Fraser Valley. Forensics experts believe skull is woman between ages of 19 and 25.

Cara Ellis: Born April 13, 1971. Last seen in 1997 when she was 25. Reported missing in October 2002. Also went by name of Nikki Trimble.

Debra Jones: 43. Vanished Dec. 21, 2000 and her disappearance was logged by police on Christmas Day. Sister said she was a wonderful musician.

Wendy Crawford: 44. Missing since 1999. Last seen in Downtown Eastside. Mother of two children before she took to the streets. Had resided in Chilliwack prior to Vancouver.

Kerry Koski: 39 when reported missing in January 1998. Brother said she was married with three children but got addicted to heroin. Her sister set up Missing Women Legacy Society in Maple Ridge as refuge for women addicted to drugs and working as prostitutes.

Andrea Borhaven: 25 when she disappeared in 1997. Was known drug user and sex trade worker in Downtown Eastside. Last seen in Greater Vancouver but family reported her missing to Vernon RCMP, where she sometimes lived.

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Updated: August 21, 2016