Next week marks first anniversary of conviction of serial killer Robert Pickton
VANCOUVER, B.C. — A dubious anniversary in the annals of depravity occurs Tuesday when it will be one year since a jury found Robert Pickton guilty of six counts of second-degree murder.
Gasps and muffled screams erupted in a New Westminster courtroom on a dreary December day a year ago when the jury foreman announced Pickton was not guilty of first-degree murder.
The gasps were silenced when the foreman immediately announced a guilty verdict on second-degree murder.
The same verdict followed on remaining five counts and Pickton - showing the same lack of emotion that characterized his demeanour through most of the year-long trial - was sentenced to life in prison. He can apply for parole after he serves 25 years.
The 59-year-old social misfit was convicted of the killings of Mona Wilson, Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe, Sereena Abotsway and Andrea Joesbury.
He was a frequent visitor to the drug-infested epicentre of the Downtown Eastside and his victims all lived or spent much of their time there.
The case has been remarkable for its longevity.
The killings Pickton is accused of committing span several years. He was arrested in February 2002 and it took almost five years for a jury to announce its verdict.
Marilyn Kraft, whose daughter Cindy Feliks is one of the remaining 20 cases, is worn down by the ordeal.
"It's been 11 years now (since her daughter's disappearance). It's been a long time. I think everybody is very tired. I know I'm exhausted from it."
Following his arrest, an army of investigators searched Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam literally centimetre by centimetre for two years.
Lawyers argued legal issues for a year before a jury ever heard a word of testimony in court once the trial began in January 2007.
Another chapter starts in late March when appeals launched by the defence and Crown go before the B.C. Court of Appeal.
The self-described "little old pig farmer" has been charged with 26 murders and could still face the remaining 20 counts, depending on the outcome of the appeal.
The province's highest court could order a new trial on the six counts, or a new trial on all 26 counts he initially faced before Williams divided the charges in a 2006 ruling.
The appeal court could also uphold the six convictions, allowing the Crown to abandon a trial on the remaining 20.
Kate Gibson of the Women's Information Safe House (WISH) on the Downtown Eastside, suggested little has changed as a result of Pickton's devastation.
"The situations women face on the street every day aren't any different," said Gibson. "There are still people that die every day from the effects of the life that they lead."
She has no doubt there are "plenty of other predators out there. He wasn't the only one."
Sue Davis, a sex-trade worker and member of Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE), says funding for programs has been hampered by the federal Conservative government.
"It becomes frustrating when people are dying waiting for funding. The Conservatives have shifted everything. We were on the cusp of something before they came into power."
She and Gibson say police presence and interest have improved due to the Pickton case.
"In no other city in this country are the police as open and coming forward, like trying new things," said Davis.
Wayne Leng, a friend of one of Pickton's alleged victims who operates a website devoted to the missing women, says most people that follow the case are focused on the appeal and "whether there will be a second trial."
But his website is now read widely and it has sparked an awareness of not only missing women, but those caught in the web of drug addiction and the sex trade.
"What I'm finding is that there is more of a coming together, like a huge network, even down into Mexico," says Leng, who now lives and works in California.
"It's not happening fast but we are joining each other's groups.
"There's more of an interest among people who are interested in the topic of violence against women."
While Gibson was hard-pressed to find major change, she points to some small advances.
"People (sex-trade workers) are a lot more vigilant than they used to be and if somebody thought someone was missing, it would come to light a lot sooner."
Many of the missing women whose names surfaced in connection with the Pickton investigation were not reported missing for weeks and sometimes months.
Sex-trade workers in the Downtown Eastside have always known and contributed to a "bad date sheet" that is circulated. That sheet now makes the rounds weekly instead of monthly, says Gibson.
Society in general, she says, is now more aware of the horrors of the Downtown Eastside.
"It has made people more aware of the situation that women face out on the street. It's not so taboo to speak about."
Groups like WISH and PACE and others set up to assist the disadvantaged are seeing increased funding from the province, the city and from private donations, says Gibson.
It's been almost seven years since Pickton's arrest and a debate continues about what to do with the property that hasn't already been developed into townhouses.
Ideas have included a memorial garden and even a public cemetery.
Kraft will have none of it, saying most of the victims' families are opposed to a memorial.
"We don't want anything on that site at all for our girls. To me, you would be memorializing their deaths and it's like a killing field to me.
"I don't care what they do with that land. I just don't want Cindy's name on it."