Accused serial killer Pickton to face two trials

Canadian Press

Sept 8, 2006

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VANCOUVER Accused serial killer Robert Pickton will face trial on only six counts of first-degree murder when a jury begins hearing the case in January, the Crown confirmed Friday.

 But even though the slimmed-down case will simplify things, Mr. Pickton's lawyers say they will likely ask a judge for permission to question potential jurors more closely than usual before a panel of 12 is chosen.

 Crown lawyers said Friday they will follow a court's recommendation last month and hold two trials for Mr. Pickton on charges that he murdered 26 women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside over several years.

 "We looked at all the rulings and the nature of the evidence and it was determined from our perspective that it was the most prudent course of action to proceed with the six counts," Crown spokesman Stan Lowe said outside B.C. Supreme Court.

 A trial on the remaining 20 will follow later.

 Last month, Justice James Williams ruled a trial on 26 counts of murder all at once would be too much for jurors to comprehend and would drag the case on needlessly.

Judge Williams ruled the split was necessary in "the interests of justice" and that the evidence in the six cases is "materially different" than in the other 20 cases.

 The Crown said then it hadn't decided how to proceed, but prosecutor Mike Petrie told Judge Williams on Friday that jurors will begin hearing testimony in January on six counts. The second trial on the remaining 20 charges is to take place some time later.

 Petrie said the Crown plans to file a new indictment in the coming weeks charging Pickton with the deaths of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey.

 Mr. Pickton turns 57 next month and appeared in court via video link. He was charged almost five years ago and his trial was expected to take two years, but now that the case has been divided, it's expected jurors will only have to sit through one year of testimony.

 Defence lawyer Peter Ritchie welcomed the decision to begin with six counts.

 "It's just too much to take on to go ahead with all the counts at the same time," he said. "The practicalities are such that we have a jury trial here and you can't expect a jury is going to be subjected to an ordeal (of 26 counts.)"

 Jurors are to be selected in December.

 Hundreds of people are expected to be called for jury duty. One estimate had as many as 3,500 people receiving notices, compared with a normal murder trial in which 500 people are called.

 From those, 12 will be selected to be jurors.

 The jury pool will be assembled on Dec. 9 a Saturday and then broken into smaller groupings. The selection of the 12 jurors and two alternates was to begin Dec. 11.

 Mr. Ritchie told reporters outside court he might make applications for the defence to ask potential jurors questions they aren't normally asked.

 Usually, Canadian candidates for a jury are only asked if they have heard of the case and if they can remain impartial. American lawyers have more latitude.

 "Maybe the Americans are ahead of us in selecting juries efficiently," said Mr. Ritchie. "I'm going to be putting some ideas in front of the judge about that."

 Mr. Ritchie didn't say specifically what kind of questions he wanted to ask, but said the obvious one is whether jury candidates have heard of the case and whether they've drawn any conclusions.

 "Everyone, to some extent, has heard about this case. And so, we'll have to sort out through that to get 12 people who have a fair view," he said. "I think we can do it."

 He added he thought it highly doubtful he'd ever find 12 people who had heard nothing about the case.

 Following Judge Williams' ruling last month, some legal observers suggested the defence or Crown may ask to have the first trial heard under a blanket publication ban in order to protect Mr. Pickton's right to a fair trial in the second case.

 Mr. Ritchie said Friday the defence hadn't considered that yet, but he doubted they would make that request.

 Lowe steered clear of saying what the Crown would do.

 The other 20 women not included in the judge's six counts are: Cara Ellis, Andrea Borhaven, Kerry Koski, Wendy Crawford, Debra Lynne Jones, Tiffany Drew, Sarah de Vries, Cynthia Feliks, Angela Jardine, Diana Melnick, Jacqueline McDonell, Diane Rock, Heather Bottomley, Jennifer Furminger, Helen Hallmark, Patricia Johnson, Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving and Inga Hall.

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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