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Ban breached, Pickton's lawyer argues
Testimony at hearing for accused serial killer is on hold over media coverage

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. (CP) - Testimony at the preliminary hearing for the man accused of being Canada's worst serial killer was put on hold today amid allegations media outlets breached publication bans intended to ensure a fair trial.

The break comes after only a day and a half of evidence in what is expected to be a preliminary hearing that will last many months.

Peter Ritchie, lead lawyer for accused serial killer Robert Pickton, presented the court with an affidavit outlining what he alleged were breaches of the publication ban by Canadian and foreign media. He would not specify which media outlets he was referring to or in what way they might have broken the ban, but he planned to provide those details Wednesday.

Ritchie said there are "clear and obvious breaches of the ban."

The discussions of how to deal with the alleged breaches will be the focus of the hearing when it resumes Wednesday.

When the preliminary hearing resumed this morning, Crown prosecutor Michael Petrie told Judge David Stone that a U.S. newspaper and some U.S. TV stations had published evidence from the opening day of the hearing.

"I was aware of the possibility and some fears I had have proven themselves out," Petrie told the court.

One of Pickton's lawyers, Adrian Brooks, said he agreed there had been a breach of the publication ban in the U.S. media.

Brooks also expressed concern some Canadian media outlets were supplying information in stories that could lead readers and viewers to the U.S. media outlets.

The provincial court judge asked the defence and prosecution to provide "a typed, specific order that you seek, the type of wording you require in the order."

The judge also suggested that if the U.S. media continued "to not live up to the spirit of the ban," he might have to consider an order prohibiting U.S. news organizations from the courtroom. But he made it clear that he would not revisit banning the public from the courtroom.

Ritchie suggested the judge could consider contempt of court, or criminal charges, or ejecting some media from the courtroom.

Last month, the judge dismissed a defence application to prohibit all media and public from the courtroom. At the time, the judge said he would entertain further submissions on the issue if the defence had subsequent concerns.

The long-awaited hearing, under the publication ban that prevents dissemination of any evidence presented, got underway almost a year after police swooped down on a farm owned by Pickton and two siblings Feb. 5, 2002.

The preliminary hearing is held to allow the judge to determine if there is enough evidence against Pickton to proceed to a trial, which would not likely begin for at least a year.

The Crown told the judge last week that the initial stage of the hearing would likely last until the end of April. It could then extend through the summer, or into the fall if there was a summer break.

Pickton, a Port Coquitlam pig farmer, is charged with killing 15 women who are among 61 identified as missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Outside court, Brooks told reporters that "the concerns are always of a fair trial."

"We do want to make sure that the atmosphere remains as clear as it possibly can and that during a preliminary hearing, when only one side of the story is being told, that that story not be one that affects jurors," Brooks said.

Geoff Gaul, spokesman for the Crown, told reporters the issue of bans or breaches of bans "will be looked into by the police. They will then consult with us to determine what is the appropriate course of action."

The joint RCMP-Vancouver police task force investigating the case said in a news release it would continue to monitor international media for any breaches of the ban and consult with the Crown on how they should be dealt with.

As he did Monday, Pickton sat in an enclosed bullet-proof area and seemed to be following the proceedings intently. He followed along in a transcript provided to him and periodically talked to a sheriff seated beside him.

After the hearing began Monday, it went into a voir dire that would allow the judge to determine the admissibility of evidence he hears.

The courtroom has several seats set aside for family members of the victims but many of them have not been occupied so far.

The two front rows are reserved for reporters while the public section, filled to capacity Monday, had many empty seats Tuesday.

A number of reporters for U.S. outlets also attended.

Pickton, 53, has been in custody since late February, when he was charged with the murders of Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson.

A huge police investigative team has been painstakingly searching Pickton's Port Coquitlam farm since that arrest.

He is also charged with the murders of Diane Rock, Jacqueline McDonell, Heather Bottomley, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Jennifer Furminger, Helen Hallmark, Patricia Johnson, Georgina Papin, Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving and Inga Hall.

The 15 were among 61 women from the Downtown Eastside - mostly drug-addicted prostitutes - who disappeared from the poverty-stricken neighbourhood.

The murder counts against Pickton so far are four more than the number admitted to by Canada's most notorious serial killer, Clifford Olson.

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Updated: August 21, 2016