Missing women's lives had no place as Pickton jury deliberated their deaths


December 9, 2007

VANCOUVER - Lipsticks, earrings and lone strands of hair.

For months at the Robert Pickton trial, these were the closest the jury got to personal details about the six women that he was convicted Sunday of killing.

Days were spent on their butchered remains, the traces of their DNA, their blood.

But what made Sereena Abotsway laugh, or how Georgina Papin embraced her First Nations' heritage, or that Andrea Joesbury used to love to dance - their lives had no place as the jury deliberated their deaths.

"The case isn't about answering the question about why they died or even precisely how they died or what led up to their deaths or exactly what the circumstances were surrounding their deaths," lead Crown prosecutor Mike Petrie told the jury in his closing statements.

"But the issue here in this case now is who killed them and who disposed of their remains."

Pickton was charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the killing and dismemberment of Abotsway, Papin, Joesbury, Mona Wilson, Marnie Frey and Brenda Wolfe.

   The jury, which began deliberating Nov. 30 after a 10-month trial, returned Sunday to find the 58-year-old pig farmer guilty of second-degree murder on all counts.

Pickton is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday and faces at least a 10-year prison term before becoming eligible for parole but the judge could extend that eligibility to 25 years.

Although in the nascent years of the justice system, the onus was on the victim to go to court and prove a crime, the modern-day court system has seen the Crown take over that role.

In essence, lawyers say, court cases are not about victims or even the accused - they are about the state.

"In every criminal case, it is the Crown that is on trial," said defence lawyer Robert Mulligan, who is not connected with the Pickton trial. "It's the Crown that is on trial because anyone who is accused is presumed innocent."

"And really what a trial is about is to determine whether the Crown has been able to prove, with admissible evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, what they have alleged against the accused."

It is up to the Crown to what extent to it brings the victims' lives into the case to prove the allegations.

At the Pickton trial, it was necessary to establish when the women went missing to attempt to make a connection with the accused.

In a series of facts admitted as evidence, jurors heard about the women's last known contact with health care providers and social service agencies.

The Crown also attempted to show that Pickton followed a pattern, that the women whose remains were found on his farm were all drug-addicted prostitutes.

So the jury heard from a support worker with a drop-in agency for prostitutes who knew each of the six women.

While recognizing that it is the responsibility of the Crown to prove its case, victims advocacy groups say there should be a greater role for those impacted by a crime at trials.

"People who are victims want to have a role and a say," said Susanne Dahlin, executive director of the victims services and crime prevention division of B.C.'s Ministry of Public Safety.

"The question has been - and still is, and we're working that out - is what is their role and what is their say?"

The recognition that victims may have some rights in the justice system dates back to the 1970s, when compensation began to be provided to victims of crime on a limited basis.

The movement gained traction in the mid-1980s, with the establishment of advocacy groups. By the mid-1990s, victim’s services departments were in place at both the provincial and national level.

In March, the Conservative government announced $52 million in funding over four years to establish an ombudsman for victims of crime and support service programs across the country.

The programs run from counselling services to legal advice in the event a victim's personal life becomes the focus of a trial.

Victims have also been given the right in criminal trials to make impact statements before a sentence is handed down.

The families of Pickton's victims will be given a similar opportunity at Tuesday's sentencing hearing.

The families have also been given funding to attend portions of the trial, and about 20 of them converged on the courthouse in the final days to await a verdict.

Some have complained throughout the 10-month trial of disorganized and unfair treatment by victims services, including how seats in the courtroom were allocated and the rules in place for funding. The situation finally erupted in open squabbling on Saturday.

Dahlin acknowledged the Pickton trial was a learning process, no one in the country having dealt with a case quite like this before.

Pickton was charged with the murders of 26 women. A trial on the remaining 20 charges is expected at a later date.

The families have said they've often felt like victims themselves in the years since their daughters went missing from the Downtown Eastside. They have welcomed, albeit with broken hearts, the opportunity to be present at the trial.

For those awaiting a second trial however, the pain of that victimization remains.

Lilliane Beaudoin, whose sister Diane Rock is among the 20 other alleged victims, isn't sure she has the strength.

"It's been rough hearing all the stories with the anticipation I'm going to be hearing it all over again in the next trial," Beaudoin said.

"My heart goes out to the families."


Here are sketches of Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Marnie Frey, Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson and Brenda Wolfe, the six women Robert Pickton was convicted of killing in the second degree.


Name: Andrea Joesbury

Born: Nov. 6, 1978 in Victoria

Children: Daughter

Police say last seen: June, 2001

Quote: "They (the missing women) didn't wake one day and be like, 'Well, you know what, I'm going to be a prostitute. Then I'm going to have HIV and then I'm going to get murdered.' " - Heather Joesbury, Andrea's sister, on frustration that police didn't move more quickly to investigate the disappearance of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.


Name: Georgina Faith Papin

Born: March 11, 1964

Children: Seven, including one set of twins

Police say last seen: March, 1999

Quote: "Everywhere we went, people always went 'Oh hi Georgina.' Everybody knew her. I was really proud that she was my mom." - Kristina Bateman, Papin's daughter.


Name: Marnie Lee Anne Frey

Born: Aug. 30, 1973, Campbell River, B.C.

Children: Daughter Brittney, born 1992.

Police say last seen: August 1997

Quote: "She played like a boy. She loved outside. She didn't care if it rained, snowed or was hailing. She didn't care. She'd be the only kid in the neighbourhood." - stepmother Lynn Frey about Marnie as a child.


Name: Sereena Abostway

Born: Aug. 20, 1971. Born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Occupation: Prostitute, community activist

Police say last seen: Aug. 2001

Quote: "You were all part of God's plan. He probably took most of you home. But he left us with a very empty spot." - from a poem written by Abotsway about her friends that had disappeared from the Downtown Eastside.


Name: Mona Lee Wilson.

Born: Jan. 13, 1975

Children: Son

Police say last seen: Nov. 2001

Quote: "I remember her smile. I remember what a great girl she was. She would have been a great wife and a great mother. She had true love in her heart." - Greg Garley, Wilson's foster brother for six years.


Name: Brenda Wolfe

Born: Oct. 20, 1968, likely in the Lethbridge, Alta., area.

Children: Known to have had a son.

Police say last seen: February, 1999.

Occupation: Street enforcer in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, waitress, bouncer.


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Updated: August 21, 2016