Pickton's legal team grapples with letter
Lawyer rejects call to vet client's mail

Sept 6, 2006

VANCOUVER -- It happens often. Strangers write letters to someone accused of a high-profile crime.

However, a lawyer for Robert Pickton said yesterday he was caught off guard by publicity surrounding a letter Mr. Pickton sent to a stranger in California, professing innocence and warning that those involved in the murder of Vancouver's missing women have not yet been arrested.

"I'm not surprised to hear that someone has written to him. It's a common phenomenon," lawyer Adrian Brooks said yesterday in an interview. "Some people with an issue to resolve write to people in jail. It's an oddity of society."

However, Mr. Pickton's legal team did not know he was responding to mail from strangers.

"I was aware that Mr. Pickton was sending letters out of jail. I did not know he was writing to someone outside the family," Mr. Brooks said.

Portions of the correspondence were publicized last weekend after a Californian who said he received letters from Mr. Pickton provided material to a Vancouver newspaper. In a letter dated Aug. 22 and addressed to a recipient named "Mya," Mr. Pickton wrote that he was "a fall guy" and the criminals were still at large. He also commented on a court ruling.

Mr. Brooks dismissed a concern that the correspondence attributed to Mr. Pickton may be a fake. Nothing in the letter indicated it was written by someone else, he said.

"It sounded consistent with how [Mr. Pickton] might speak."

Mr. Brooks also rejected a call to censor his client's correspondence. A relative of one of the women killed in the case has questioned why Mr. Pickton was allowed to send uncensored letters to strangers about anything he liked.

Other information about the case remains under an extensive publication ban.

"He is presumed to be innocent and he has the freedom . . . to write to whomever he wants to," Mr. Brooks said.

B.C. Corrections spokesman Bruce Bannerman said in an interview that people in jail are provided with postage for up to seven letters a week.

Authorities can intervene only if they have reasonable grounds for believing the correspondence could raise safety or security matters or contain a threat or constitute harassment, he said.

Prison authorities do not read the mail and are not concerned about information in letters that may touch on a case before the courts.

"That may be a concern for the Crown [prosecutor] or his lawyer. But if it is not unlawful, we have no authority to go and check it out," Mr. Bannerman said. "We are never able to censor the mail."

Mr. Pickton's defence team tried unsuccessfully last year to obtain a court order prohibiting anyone from revealing anything they heard in court to anyone outside court. Lawyer Peter Ritchie proposed the unusual ban to restrict publicity on websites and in foreign news media. He said the measure would have ensured that potential jurors would not be contaminated by reading information about the trial on-line.

Yesterday, however, Mr. Brooks did not express concern about the impact of the publicity on Mr. Pickton's trial, saying he does not believe the correspondence will be a factor.

"It will have no impact on what happens in court," he said. "There is not anything of any use to the Crown or us."

Stan Lowe, a spokesman for the prosecution team, said prosecutors are waiting to see whether the defence team suggests during the next court session that the publicity could affect the fairness of the trial.

"We're reviewing all the materials, but we want to see the defence's response," Mr. Lowe said.

He also said it would be inappropriate to comment on remarks made in the letter.

"A case should be decided by the case in court," Mr. Lowe said, adding that the prosecution intends to indicate in court Friday how it intends to proceed.

Mr. Pickton has been charged with the murder of 26 women who went missing from Vancouver's skid row between December, 1995, and November, 2001.

Police have said the women were addicted to drugs and worked as prostitutes.

Mr. Justice James Williams of the B.C. Supreme Court split the criminal charges into two groups last month, ruling that a trial on 26 counts of murder could become unmanageable.

Although a court order prohibits publication of most of the ruling, the judge allowed news outlets to report that he separated the charges into a group of six and a group of 20 on the basis of the evidence.

The murder trial, which began Jan. 30, resumes Friday.

The court is currently reviewing the admissibility of evidence. Selection of a jury has been slated for December.

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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