Media Challenge Ban in Serial Killer Case

Associated Press Writer

Thursday, March 20, 2003

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Five U.S. media organizations asked an appeals court Thursday to overturn inclusion of the Internet in a publication ban covering a preliminary hearing in Canada's worst serial killing case.

The Associated Press, The Seattle Times and three Seattle television stations also asked for the release of affidavits that were introduced in support of extending the ban in the case of Robert Pickton.

Pickton, 53, is accused of killing 15 women who were among more than 60 prostitutes and drug addicts missing from downtown Vancouver over the past 25 years. He has said little during the preliminary proceedings, but in a defense statement denied killing one of the women.

Media lawyers were not allowed to address the hearing judge when the initial publication ban was ordered Dec. 6 or when it was extended Jan. 15.

David Tomlin, assistant to AP President Louis D. Boccardi, said that at the least, media organizations should have an opportunity to present their arguments in court.

"We think it's important for the court to weigh the small likely impact of non-Canadian Web sites on the jury pool in Vancouver against the enormous infringement imposed by the court's order on the speech and press rights of a worldwide community of Internet producers and readers," Tomlin said.

The petition filed Thursday with the Supreme Court of British Columbia names Pickton, his lawyer Peter Ritchie, Judge David Stone, British Columbia Attorney General Geoff Plant and court manager Tom Smith. They have seven days to respond.

The preliminary hearing, which is expected to last until May, is being held to determine if there is sufficient evidence to justify putting Pickton on trial.

At the start of the hearing, Stone imposed a ban on publishing details of evidence presented at the hearing within Canada, a common step in this country. The ban is intended to avoid tainting the perceptions of potential jurors in case the hearing leads to a trial.

Defense and prosecution agreed Jan. 14 that there had been possible breaches of the order. Stone expanded the ban the next day to include the posting of information on the Internet.

Stone notified reporters from AP and The Seattle Times that they would be excluded from the hearing if further breaches occurred. Conviction for violating a ban carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

In complying with the ban, AP stories on the hearing are not transmitted within Canada and carry warnings that they contain information prohibited under the ban. Signals from Seattle TV news reports about the case that reach the Vancouver area have been blacked out.

The preliminary hearing will reveal details of a yearlong police search of two properties -- a small farm and a nearby plot -- that Pickton owns with his siblings.

The case has spawned sensational charges of a killer preying on prostitutes and drug addicts, then disposing of the bodies on the 10-acre farm 18 miles east of Vancouver.

Fifty-one more forensic investigators have joined 52 who have been searching the farm since last June 3. They are sifting through dirt on conveyer belts looking for bone fragments or other potential evidence.

Copyright 2003, The Associated Press

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