January start possible for Pickton trial

Lori Culbert
CanWest News Service; Vancouver Sun

Thursday, June 29, 2006

VANCOUVER - Canada's largest serial murder trial may begin in January, and that means some British Columbia residents will be attending jury-selection hearings in mid-December instead of doing last-minute Christmas shopping.

Artist's sketch show accused serial killer Robert Pickton taking notes during the second day of his trial in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, B.C. January 2006.

Photograph by: Canadian Press/Jane Wolsack

Defence attorneys for Robert (Willy) Pickton, who is accused of killing 26 woman who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, suggested in Supreme Court Wednesday that jury selection could begin Dec. 11 in preparation for a long trial that may start Jan. 8, 2007.

Crown prosecutors backed the defence's proposed schedule, but Justice James Williams will rule on Friday when the mega-trial will begin.

Exact details about how the jury selection process would work are not available this early in the court process, but Pickton's defence lawyer, Adrian Brooks, said in court he was confident 12 jurors could be selected between Dec. 11 and the start of the Christmas season.

Outside court, Pickton's lead defence lawyer, Peter Ritchie, said the process may require the judge to take ''extraordinary strides'' to ensure fair and efficient jury selection when the case has received so much media attention.

Typically, in Canada, potential jurors aren't individually questioned by lawyers as they are in the U.S., but something like that might have to happen here, Ritchie said.

''Normally, a judge will point out (to prospective jurors) the importance of being impartial and allow opportunities for jurors to express their views as to whether they think they could be or not be and perhaps in this case even accede to applications from counsel to ask the jurors a few questions,'' said Ritchie, who remained confident 12 unbiased jurors can be found.

''There are a lot of people in our country who are more clear thinking Eand will be able to come to court to hear this, I expect.''

Two months ago, Ritchie said he feared the trial could last two years. However, on Wednesday, he said he hopes the length of the hearing can be whittled down through pre-trial arguments being heard right now by Williams and through negotiations with the Crown.

For example, he said there are an estimated 1,000 witnesses the defence understands are on the Crown's witness list. That doesn't include the number of witnesses that would be called by the defence, which Ritchie wouldn't reveal.

''We need to see if there is some way we can shorten this (witness list) to see if we can make it more manageable,'' he said.

''Two years is not an efficient time estimate. I don't know how a jury could deal with a trial of such a length. I rather doubt that they could.''

In addition, this unprecedented case continues to present the Crown and defence with more and more work. There are still many exhibits being tested at labs across the country, and positive DNA results continue to be found.

And the police continue to conduct interviews and followup tips that result in new information being sent to counsel, including a recent report that contained about 2,000 tasks just completed by officers on this case, Brooks said.

Crown prosecutor Michael Petrie told Williams that about 750,000 pages of evidence have been disclosed to the defence.

''It's certainly one of those rare cases where counsel is essentially overwhelmed, and the court is overwhelmed, at the amount of the investigation, the amount of evidence that has been gathered,'' Petrie said.

Pickton was arrested in February 2002 and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. His preliminary hearing was held in 2003 when he faced 15 counts of murder.

When his pre-trial hearings began in January, he was facing 27 counts but that has since been reduced to 26.

Those pre-trial hearings, which are under a sweeping publication ban, are expected to continue into the fall, as lawyers argue which evidence the jury should hear when the actual trial begins.

Both the Crown and defence said in court Wednesday that, despite public criticism that the case has dragged on for years, they've been advancing as quickly as possible with the complicated case.

''Everyone is concerned ....about having this matter placed before the jury as quickly as that can happen,'' said Petrie, who credited good co-operation among Crown and defence for keeping the process moving.

Added Brooks: ''There's no suggestion that anyone on the Crown or defence side has been dawdling or twiddling their thumbs waiting for something to do.''

Pickton has pleaded not guilty to killing 26 sex-trade workers, who were all on a list of 66 women who disappeared from the Downtown Eastside between 1978 and 2001.

Vancouver Sun

 CanWest News Service 2006



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016