Judge throws out murder count against Pickton

Greg Joyce
Canadian Press

Thursday, March 02, 2006

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. -- Accused serial killer Robert Pickton faces one less murder count after a judge ruled he cannot be tried on a charge of killing an unidentified Jane Doe.

"I find that in the circumstances of this case, the count as drawn fails to meet the minimal requirement set out in Section 581 of the Criminal Code. Accordingly, it must be quashed," Justice James Williams wrote in a ruling released Thursday.

Pickton was charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder involving women _ most of them drug-addicted sex-trade workers _ who disappeared over a stretch of years from Vancouver's seedy Downtown Eastside.

All the women were identified except for one referred to only as Jane Doe in the indictment.

Pickton has been in custody for four years. He pleaded not guilty on the 26 named victims on Jan. 30 but refused to enter a plea on the Jane Doe count. The court registered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.

One of Pickton's defence lawyers said outside B.C. Supreme Court at the time that he would challenge the charge _ count 22 _ arguing it wasn't technically proper.

On Thursday, Pickton lawyer Adrian Brooks said outside court that the ruling was "a positive step in our defence of Mr. Pickton."

"It is essential that minimal requirements of fairness be shown to every accused and this decision is part of the fairness to be shown to Mr. Pickton."

Crown lawyer Mike Petrie said prosecutors will have to consider what they'll do next.

"There are options available to Crown and we have to consider what we can follow up on."

Crown spokesman Stan Lowe said specialists from the Attorney General's Ministry would be involved in deciding the Crown's reaction.

"From our perspective, what I think is important is the prosecution team, in conjunction with specialists from the criminal justice branch, are reviewing the decision and the proceedings," Lowe said outside court. "After that review, they will determine what action, if any, should be taken."

Lowe said an appeal of the judge's decision was among the options.

The court, which has been hearing legal arguments to determine the admissibility of evidence, has been adjourned until Tuesday. The legal arguments are under a publication ban.

Lowe said he wanted to make "absolutely clear" that the deletion of one count did not weaken the Crown's case.

"It's important that everyone understands that each one of the counts on the direct indictment are separate and discrete counts that are built on evidence.

"The ruling was built on the sufficiency of the count as drafted. The evidence hasn't changed from the Crown's perspective."

Lowe was asked why the Jane Doe count was put on the indictment if having it quashed doesn't hurt the Crown's case.

"It was a count we felt was supported by the evidence in this particular case. The count itself was quashed because of the manner in which it was drafted."

The Jane Doe count, he said, was in connection with a woman the Crown could not identify, "but we were of the view that the available evidence supported the charge as drafted."

Almost all of Williams' Thursday ruling cannot be published except for a paragraph explaining his decision to throw the count out.

Williams also said that even if he had "looked beyond the language of count 22" to consider other information, " I would have found it to be defective."

"The defects could not be remedied by amendment without an injustice being done, and I would therefore have been required to quash Count 22 on that basis as well. "

The allegations against Pickton regarding the Jane Doe murder are contained in some of the 750,000 pages of documentary material the Crown has disclosed to the defence.

 Canadian Press

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