Serial killer Willie Pickton's convictions should be overturned: lawyer

By Lori Culbert, Vancouver Sun

March 30, 2009 6:59 PM

VANCOUVER - Serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton’s trial “went off the rails” during the jury’s deliberations, and therefore his conviction on six counts of second-degree murder should be overturned, a defence lawyer told the B.C. Court of Appeal on Monday.

It is the constitutional right of any defendant, “no matter how heinous the accusations” against him, to have a fair trial, Pickton’s lawyer, Gil McKinnon, argued during the opening day of the appeal of the high-profile 2007 trial.

Therefore, the former Port Coquitlam pig farmer, who is serving a life sentence for killing six women who disappeared from the Downtown Eastside, should be granted a new trial, McKinnon said.

That request elicited a heavy sigh from one of a dozen relatives who were in the courtroom, where six prosecutors and two defence lawyers will make arguments before three appeal court justices over nine days.

More family members and friends of the six victims, as well as of other women who have vanished from the neighbourhood, chanted, beat drums and called out for justice on the courthouse steps in downtown Vancouver.

Three sisters of Georgina Papin, who disappeared 10 years ago and is one of the women Pickton was convicted of killing, travelled from Edmonton to listen to the appeal.

“Every part of this trial is important, especially for our sister Georgina, and we want to make sure she is represented,” said Cynthia Cardinal. “We’ll live with this for the rest of our lives.”

At the centre of the defence’s appeal is the only question the jury members asked the judge during their nine days of deliberations in December 2007. Although the question was awkwardly worded, the jury appeared to be asking whether they could find Pickton guilty if they determined he had “indirectly” killed one or more of the women.

It is a reasonable interpretation, McKinnon said, to conclude that some members of the jury must have thought someone other than Pickton shot the three victims who died of gunshot wounds and, potentially, killed the other three victims, whose cause of death could not be determined because very little of their remains were found on Pickton’s property.

“One or more members of the jury were having some difficulty with the Crown’s theory that Mr. Pickton was the shooter of the three women and/or the killer of the other three women,” the lawyer told the court.

McKinnon argued that the trial judge, Justice James Williams, made five errors, among them: the way he initially addressed the jurors’ question; changing his mind and creating the “real possibility” that some jurors could conclude Pickton could be convicted for acting as a participant, instead of a sole perpetrator, in the deaths; and giving a charge to the jury that was “incomplete, misleading and wholly inadequate.”

McKinnon alleged the Crown’s theory that Pickton acted alone in the murders never wavered in this case until the jury members asked their question, and then the Crown “backslid” from its previous position to embrace the idea he may have worked with someone else. That, the defence argued, “destroyed the integrity of this trial.”

McKinnon indicated that the Crown, which is expected to start its response to the defence appeal today or Wednesday, will argue it did not change its position.

On Dec. 9, 2007, three days after asking its question, the jury found Pickton not guilty of first-degree murder, but guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder in the deaths of Papin, Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe and Marnie Frey.

The Crown has also filed its own appeal, arguing the trial judge made six errors, including rulings on whether the jury heard certain evidence and severing the charges against Pickton into two trials, one of six counts and the other of 20. The Crown’s appeal will likely be presented next week, once argument in the defence appeal is finished.

Pickton, who is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, was not present in court.

The 50-seat courtroom was packed most of Monday morning with reporters, victims’ supporters, members of the public, and two Missing Women Task Force investigators. The crowd thinned out in the afternoon, as the legal arguments became more technical.

Community activists Bernie Williams and Gladys Radek, who last year walked across Canada to demand a public inquiry in the case, wore distinctive red native robes in the courtroom. Many of the women who disappeared from the Downtown Eastside were aboriginal.

Also in the courtroom were relatives of some of the other 20 women who Pickton is accused of killing. They hope Pickton will face a second trial on those counts, but the Crown has said it will not proceed with that trial if the defence’s appeal bid is unsuccessful.

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Updated: August 21, 2016