VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Families stunned by ruling
Pickton won't face all 26 murder charges in trial next year
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Families of Robert Pickton's alleged victims are angry and confused after learning yesterday that he won't face all 26 murder charges when he goes to trial in January.
Jack Cummer (left), step-grandfather of
Andrea Joesbury — one of the women whose alleged murders will be tried
separately from 20 others — says even if Robert Pickton were convicted of only
half a dozen killings, justice would be done because he would be jailed for
life. Meanwhile, Adrian Brooks (above), defence lawyer for the accused serial
murderer, says taking all 26 cases to court would make the trial unworkable.
Six charges have been severed from the rest.
There was no word on which group would be dealt with first, or if the larger group would be further split and then dealt with.
Yesterday's judicial bombshell caught the victims' families off guard.
"It's confusing. We can only pray that they deal with the six girls first and then the other ones after," said Jack Cummer, step-grandfather of Andrea Joesbury.
Joesbury and Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey are the severed group of six.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams ruled yesterday that pursuing all 26 charges at once would put "an unreasonable burden on a jury because the trial would go on for too long and involve too much evidence."
"The proper exercise of my discretion to maximize the likelihood that this trial will proceed properly to verdict without mistrial makes necessary an order for severance."
Williams said he selected the six because "the evidence in support of those counts is materially different than that with respect to the others. One trial will proceed on those six counts; the balance will be tried separately."
Crown counsel spokesman Geoffrey Gaul said the next step has not been established.
"Which should go first?" he asked. "Should we go to trial with those six counts or should we look at the other 20 and should we proceed on those 20 or should we proceed on a number of those 20?
"Those are discretionary calls that the prosecution will make."
Gaul said Pickton still faces 26 counts of first-degree murder.
Testimony is scheduled to begin in January, with a jury to be selected by the end of this year.
Cummer, who last spoke to his stepgranddaughter a week before she was last seen in the summer of 2001, said if Pickton is found guilty of six killings, and not 26, then justice will be done because he will be jailed for life.
"There will never be closure for the families. You either move away or you die," said Cummer, adding he will not attend the trial because he doesn't want to hear the Crown's allegations.
Cummer said Joesbury told him she was moving back to Vancouver Island the week she disappeared, having completed a methadone program.
She told him she was going to a party that night, and that was the last he heard from her.
Lillian Beaudoin, sister of Diane Rock, who is included in the larger group of alleged victims, said she wasn't aware there was a move to separate some of the charges.
She wondered when her family might see justice for the killing of her sister. "How much longer do we have to wait?" she asked.
"She was the third charge against him. My mother's going to be really upset. This is not good news. I don't know what to say, I really don't. I'm quite upset."
Pickton defence lawyer Adrian Brooks confirmed it is up to the Crown to decide how to proceed.
But he noted that going ahead with anything other than the six counts the judge singled out in his ruling would lead to the same problem the judge was trying to avoid -- an overburdened jury.
The defence said earlier it could take two years to try Pickton on the 26 counts. Defence lawyer Peter Ritchie said such a long trial "gives rise to some very serious issues about a jury."
Pickton has elected trial by a jury, though he had the option of a trial by a judge alone.
Pickton was arrested in February 2002 after police descended on his Port Coquitlam property.
The women he is accused of killing all lived in Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside.
1. Georgina Papin: Born March 11, 1964. Last seen March 2, 1999, and reported missing March 14, 2001.
2. Brenda Wolfe: Born Oct. 20, 1968. Last seen Feb. 1, 1999, and reported missing April 25, 2000.
3. Andrea Joesbury: Born Nov. 6, 1978. Last seen June 6, 2001, and reported missing two days later.
4. Sereena Abotsway: Born Aug. 20, 1971. Last seen Aug. 1, 2001, and reported missing Aug. 22, 2001.
5. Mona Wilson: Born Jan. 13, 1975. Last seen Nov. 23, 2001, and reported missing Nov. 30, 2001.
6. Marnie Frey: Born August 1973. Disappeared in Vancouver in 1997.
- 1991: Relatives of a growing list of missing women, along with advocates for sex-trade workers, press for a tougher police investigation.
- Sept. 1998: Vancouver police set up team to review files of as many as 40 women missing as far back as 1971.
- Sept. 2001: Police and RCMP form joint task force.
- Feb. 5, 2002: RCMP officers enter property in Port Coquitlam on firearms warrant.
- Feb. 6, 2002: Task force uses warrant to begin searching property.
- Feb. 7, 2002: Robert Pickton, one of two brothers who own property along with sister, charged with weapons offences.
- Feb. 22, 2002: Pickton charged with two counts of first-degree murder. By Oct. 2, he faces 15 first-degree murder charges.
- June 6: Police begin excavating Pickton properties with help of archeologists.
- Sept. 19: List of missing women officially grows to 63.
- Jan. 13, 2003: Preliminary hearing begins in Port Coquitlam.
- July 23: Judge David Stone commits Pickton for trial on 15 counts of first-degree murder.
- May 2005: Crown lays more first-degree-murder charges.
- June 2005: Pretrial hearings begin in B.C. Supreme Court.
- Jan. 30, 2006: Legal arguments begin on admissibility of evidence.
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© The Vancouver Province 2006
Judge lightens 'burden' on jury
But 20 other counts against accused killer still 'active'
Keith Fraser; With
a file by Peter Severinson
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Prosecutors in the trial of accused serial killer Robert Pickton insisted yesterday that a decision by the judge to sever the 26-count indictment does not change their case.
A pair of workers walk through the
excavation site at Robert Pickton's Port Coquitlam farm in November 2003, during
final stages of the search for DNA samples and other physical evidence.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jim Williams ordered that owing to the "unreasonable burden" on the jury, six of the counts should be dealt with in one trial, with the other 20 tried separately.
He did not say which trial should go first, and prosecutors said they have not decided how they will proceed.
"We still have 26 active counts of murder the accused is facing," said Geoff Gaul, of the attorney-general's criminal justice branch.
"The court has not dismissed or quashed any of those counts.
"To suggest that the prosecution will either lose focus or has lost any of its drive to prosecute these cases would be wrong.
"We naturally have to address the strength of our case constantly and we will do so at the end of the first trial. We will look at the strength of the case and the remaining counts and we will decide how to proceed at that time."
Peter Ritchie, the lead counsel for the defence, could not be reached.
Mitch Foster, a veteran defence lawyer and chairman of the criminal justice section of the Canadian Bar Association, B.C. branch, noted that there is a massive amount of evidence.
"For a jury to sit there for a couple of years and at the end of it sit down and remember what was said two years ago by a certain witness they can't even remember, it puts a challenge on the jury system that perhaps hasn't been encountered before."
He noted that if Pickton is convicted of more than one count, "that really in practical matters ends things for him. It would be very difficult for somebody like that to get parole."
Defence lawyer Ian Donaldson said it's not uncommon for judges to order severance. He cited a case of his own, where a judge whittled a 110-count indictment on mortgage fraud down to a much smaller number.
"I wouldn't say it's common; severance is not a common remedy," he said. "But severance is the appropriate remedy if it's in the interests of justice to do so.
"And many people on the outside of this case think this is an unwieldy prosecution."
The judge said he ordered severance because "proceeding to trial on the indictment as it is presently constituted will impose an unreasonable burden upon the members of the jury in terms of the anticipated duration of the trial, the volume and the nature of the evidence, and the complexity of the legal tasks that this case will require of them.
"Accordingly, I order that all Counts other than Counts 1, 2, 6, 7, 11 and 16 be severed from the indictment. The evidence in support of those counts is materially different than that with respect to the others such that it justifies this outcome. One trial will proceed on those six counts; the balance will be tried separately."
BY THE NUMBERS
750,000: Number of documents disclosed so far by the Crown.
3,500: Number of prospective jurors expected to be contacted this fall.
2,000 to 2,500: Statements taken from witnesses so far.
1,000: Number of people on the Crown's witness list (not including those who could be called by the defence).
$120 million: Estimated cost of investigating and prosecuting Robert "Willy" Pickton.
500 to 600: Number of police officers and civilians who have been employed by the Joint Missing Women Task Force.
102: Number of anthropology students hired to collect DNA samples on Pickton's former pig farm between February 2002 and November 2003.
21: Number of months spent collecting 200,000 DNA samples and other physical evidence on Pickton's 6.8-hectare farm in Port Coquitlam.
370,000 cubic yards: Amount of soil sifted through on Pickton's pig farm in search of evidence.
68: Number of women who have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside between 1978 and 2001.
5: Number of years Pickton will have spent in jail by the time his trial starts in January 2007.
-- Lena Sin, Staff Reporter
Ran with fact box "By the numbers", which has been appended to the story.
© The Vancouver Province 2006
Updated: August 21, 2016