Pickton responsible for the death of at least 33 women; possibly 49 says RCMP

Kirk Makin and Robert Matas
Vancouver and Ottawa — Globe and Mail Update
Published on Friday, Jul. 30, 2010 9:47AM EDT
Last updated on Friday, Jul. 30, 2010 2:35PM EDT

Serial killer Robert Pickton is responsible for the death of at least 33 people and possibly as many as 49, RCMP Inspector Gary Shinkaruk told reporters in Vancouver Friday.

His comments followed news that Mr. Pickton’s conviction of six murders had been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Crown prosecutors believe the evidence is sufficient to convict Mr. Pickton of 21 additional murders. Police have recommended charges related to the death of six other women.

But his killing spree may have caught even more, Insp. Shinkaruk said.

Mr. Pickton has claimed to be responsible for the death of 49 women.

“We are actively investigating to identify those 16 people,” Insp. Shinkaruk said, adding that police believe it was important for the family of victims and the public to know what happened to those women.

An exhibit from the Pickton trial, a poster board of 48 missing women shown to Pickton during the 11 hours interview on day after he was arrested. Names of those identified in court: #1 Sereena Abotsway; #3 Andrea Joesbury; #4 Mona Wilson; #17 Georgina Papin; #26 Marnie Frey; #48 Brenda Wolfe.

Earlier, spokesman for the prosecutors Neil MacKenzie said they do not intend to pursue the outstanding murder charges against Mr. Pickton, who received a life sentence with no parole for 25 years for the murder of six women. Mr. Pickton has already received a maximum sentence that is available under Canadian law, he said.

His sentence begins from his arrest on Feb. 22, 2002. Patrick Storey, a spokesman for the National Parole Board in the Pacific Region, said Mr. Pickton would be eligible for day parole and unescorted absences on Feb. 22, 2024 and he would be eligible for full parole on Feb. 22, 2027. He emphasized that, with a life sentencing hanging over his head, Mr. Pickton would not automatically receive parole.

Spokesmen from both the RCMP and Vancouver Police Department endorsed a call by families of the victims for a public inquiry into the investigation of the murder. Several women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside went missing before police began a formal investigation. Police initially told families throughout the 1990s that the woman may have voluntarily gone missing to change their lifestyle.

Doug LePard, deputy chief for the Vancouver police, offered an apology to the families. “I wish from the bottom of my heart that we had caught him sooner,” he said at a news conference.

None of the victims’ families were at the news conference.

Mr. LePard said he wished police could have done better and all the mistakes they made could be undone. “We’re sorry, from the bottom of our hearts,” he said.

B.C. Attorney-General Mike de Jong later told reporters the government has not yet reached a decision on whether to hold a public inquiry.

In response to questioning, he said he saw “very compelling reasons” to take a comprehensive look at all or parts of the investigation. But the government has not yet reviewed the internal reports completed by the RCMP and the Vancouver police department, he said. Nor has the cabinet discussed the matter, he added.

The RCMP and municipal police departments spent $122.6-million on their investigations, Al Macintyre, an assistant RCMP commissioner in charge of the criminal investigation, told reporters. Both the Vancouver police and the RCMP had internal reviews of how they handled the investigation, reporters were told. However neither police force was prepared to release the reports to the public.

Both the Crown and police expressed concern and gratitude to the dozens of families whose loved ones' remains were unearthed on Mr. Pickton's farm.

“We hope that this outcome provides them with some degree of comfort and some degree of closure. It has been a long process to reach this stage in the proceedings and we realize it has been difficult and it has required a great deal of patience on the part of family members,” Mr. MacKenzie said.

Earlier Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Vancouver pig farmer Robert Pickton's convictions in the gruesome murders of six women.

Artist's sketch shows serial killer Robert Pickton sitting in the prisoner's box as he listens to closing arguments at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, B.C., on Nov. 19, 2007.

In a 9-0 ruling this morning, the Court said that the prosecution evidence against Mr. Pickton was "overwhelming," and it would constitute a grave mistake to grant him a retrial because of a judicial error that was ultimately cleared up.

The judgment nailed shut the most gruesome serial killing case in Canadian legal history.

"Certainly, this was a long and difficult trial — but it was also a fair one," Mr. Justice LeBel said.

"Despite the errors set out above, there was no miscarriage of justice occasioned by the trial proceedings. Mr. Pickton was entitled to the same measure of justice as any other person in this country. He received it. He is not entitled to more."

Convicted in 2007 on six charges of second-degree murder in the gruesome deaths of six Vancouver prostitutes and sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years, Mr. Pickton still faces another 20 counts of murder.

The B.C. Crown indicated several times since the trial that it would prosecute those additional murders if the Supreme Court were to order a new trial on the original six murder charges.

A painstaking police search of Mr. Pickton's farm uncovered human remains, DNA and other evidence that allegedly connected him to more than two dozen murders.

After an arduous case that consumed five years, featured 129 witnesses and included 1.3-million pages of documents, Mr. Pickton argued that he was not given a fair trial.

When the trial began, the Crown had portrayed Mr. Pickton as the sole killer. It alleged that he lured the women to his farm, shot them, butchered their bodies in his slaughterhouse and buried the remains in different locations.

Artist's sketch shows accused serial killer Robert Pickton taking notes as Judge James Williams instructs the jury at Pickton's murder trial in New Westminster, B.C., Nov. 30, 2007. (Reuters)

The key question for the Supreme Court revolved around an incident on the sixth day of jury deliberations. The jury returned to ask the B.C. Supreme Court's Mr. Justice James Williams whether they could still convict Mr. Pickton if they decided that he had not acted alone.

The judge told the jury they could indeed find Mr. Pickton guilty, if he killed the women “or was otherwise an active participant” in the killings. He said that it would be sufficient for them to conclude that Mr. Pickton had “actively participated” in the murders.

Soon afterward, the jury convicted Mr. Pickton on all six counts in the deaths of Mona Wilson, Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Marnie Frey.

However, Judge Williams’ instruction contradicted his original admonition – delivered prior to the jury deliberations – which stated that the Crown had to prove that Mr. Pickton had actually killed the women.

Today, the Supreme Court said that far from Mr. Pickton suffering, the judicial instruction had theoretically worked in his favour.

Writing for a six-judge faction of the Court, Madam Justice Louise Charron wrote that it was "completely erroneous in law" for the trial judge to have originally stated that the jury had to find Mr. Pickton was the actual shooter in order to convict him.

Backed by 2-1 judgment of the B.C. Court of Appeal in their favour, Crown counsel Gregory Fitch and John Gordon staunchly defended Judge Williams’s decision in the Supreme Court at a hearing last year. At the same time, they conceded that their colleagues had dropped the ball at trial by agreeing to have jurors told that Mr. Pickton could only be convicted of murdering six sex-trade workers if he was the actual killer.

However, she noted approvingly that, after the jury revealed its puzzlement through a question to the judge, he correctly retracted this element of his instruction. The judge told the jurors that Mr. Pickton could be equally guilty if he had been merely an active participant in the killings.

"This case was never about whether the accused had a minor role in the killing of the victims," Judge Charron added. "It was about whether or not he had actually killed them. The instructions as a whole adequately conveyed to the jury what it needed to know to consider the alternate routes to liability properly."

In his concurring reasons, written on behalf of Mr. Justice Ian Binnie and Mr. Justice Morris Fish, Judge LeBel said that the confusing jury instructions about the role Mr. Pickton had played in the murders augered strongly to his benefit.

"There was overwhelming evidence of the accused’s participation in the murders and, from whichever perspective his participation is considered, he was necessarily either a principal or an aider or abettor," Judge LeBel said. "Indeed, a properly instructed jury would likely have convicted the accused of first degree rather than second degree murder.

"On a review of the record, in my opinion, the Crown presented compelling, overwhelming evidence of the participation of Mr. Pickton in the murders. From whichever perspective we consider the participation of Mr. Pickton, on the evidence, he was necessarily either a principal or an aider or abettor. It would surpass belief that a properly instructed jury would not have found him guilty of murder in the presence of such cogent evidence of his involvement."

Read the full Supreme Court judgment

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