Media ban blocks coverage of start to Pickton's trial
Voir dire to decide which evidence is admissible

Lori Culbert, CanWest News Service

Saturday, January 28, 2006-01-28

Robert (Willy) Pickton, who is accused of being Canada's worst serial killer, is expected to enter a plea in court Monday on whether he killed 27 women who vanished from Vancouver's downtown eastside.

Monday marks the beginning of Pickton's trial, which starts with a voir dire phase that will last several months, said Crown counsel spokesman Stan Lowe.

Pickton has never spoken publicly about the charges he faces since his arrest in February 2002, when police began a 20-month search of his Port Coquitlam, B.C., pig farm.

Lowe said he expects Monday's court hearing will begin with Pickton being read the 27 first-degree murder counts he faces, and that he'll respond with pleas of either guilty or not guilty.

Assuming he maintains his innocence, Monday will be the start of his voir dire, a French term whose literal translation is "to see and speak the truth." The media is prohibited from publishing any evidence heard during the voir dire, so the public will not be able to learn any new details about the case in the months to come.

A voir dire is heard by a judge, who will decide which evidence in the case will be presented to a jury and which witnesses will testify.

"The rulings in the voir dire will likely have an impact on the duration of the case, as well as the nature of the case," Lowe said.

The publication ban prohibits future jury members from hearing any evidence that the judge may dismiss, for a variety of potential legal reasons, during the voir dire.

The RCMP will monitor news organizations, in particular any from the United States, to ensure no one breaches the ban, said Staff Sgt. John Ward.

Once the voir dire is over, a jury will be selected and a trial date will be set. Although Lowe said it is impossible to know exactly when the trial -- which should not be subject to a publication ban -- will start, many speculate it will not be until September at the earliest.

Because Pickton is charged with first-degree murder, he automatically faces a jury trial, unless the Crown and defence mutually agree that he will be tried by a judge alone, Lowe said.

That happened, for example, in the Air India case, when both sides agreed to proceed with a judge alone.

Lowe also wouldn't predict how many months the voir dire could last. However, journalists have signed an agreement with the province to use a media room at the New Westminster court house during the voir dire, and that contract lasts for six months.

Much of the evidence to be debated at the voir dire was presented during Pickton's six-month preliminary hearing in 2003. However, if the defence wants to challenge any of that evidence under the charter, it cannot do so until the start of the trial, Lowe said.

Since Pickton's preliminary hearing ended, he has been linked to the courthouse via video-conference for any procedural hearings. However, he is required to attend his trial, and will be in the courtroom Monday.

Courtroom seats have been saved for family members, and there will be a limited number of seats available to the public in the main courtroom and an overflow courtroom.

The court house is expected to be a busy place Monday, with many journalists present despite the publication ban.

In addition, the committee that plans the annual Women's Memorial March, held on Valentine's Day to remember the 68 women who vanished from the downtown eastside, is planning a demonstration in front of the courthouse at 9 a.m. Monday to support the victims' families.

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Accused killer's saga: A timeline leading to the start of Robert Pickton's trial on 27 charges of first-degree murder

- Oct 15, 2001: The Vancouver police department and the RCMP announce the disappearance of 46 women from the city's downtown eastside will be treated as murders.

- Feb. 7, 2002: A police task force, now looking into the disappearance of more than 50 women, seals off a pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C. and begins a massive search.

- Feb. 22, 2002: Robert Pickton, one of two brothers who own the pig farm is charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

- April 2, 2002: Crown announces three more first-degree charges against Pickton and another one a week later.

- May 22, 2002: Pickton charged with seventh count of first-degree murder.

- June 6, 2002: Police begin excavating Pickton properties with help of archeologists.

- Sept. 19, 2002: Pickton charged with four more murders. List of missing officially grows to 63.

- Oct. 2, 2002: Pickton charged with yet another four murders.

- Jan. 20, 2003: Preliminary hearing begins in provincial court in Port Coquitlam.

- July 21, 2003: Hearing concludes.

- July 23, 2003: Judge David Stone commits Pickton for trial on 15 counts of first-degree murder.

- Nov. 18, 2003: Investigators wrap up mass excavation and search of the farm.

- Jan. 27, 2004: DNA of nine more women found on the farm.

- Feb. 20, 2004: B.C. government reports investigation costs will likely run up to $70 million and that the money has been set aside in the provincial budget.

- March 10, 2004: Health officials report human remains may have been in meat processed for human consumption at the Pickton pig farm.

- Oct 6, 2004: The RCMP add eight names to the list of missing women.

- Dec. 20, 2004: A judge grants Pickton's defence team a third delay to examine the results of nearly 150,000 DNA swabs from his farm.

- March 31, 2005: Judge Geoffrey Barrow of Kelowna, B.C., is chosen to hear the case.

- May 25, 2005: Crown prosecutors announce 12 new first-degree murder charges against Robert Pickton, bringing the total number of charges to 27.

Sources: CanWest Archives

 The Calgary Herald 2006



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