Published pen-pal letters from Pickton spark furor

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Sept 4, 2006

VANCOUVER Publicity surrounding letters purportedly from pig farmer Robert Pickton to a pen pal has sparked a controversy over his treatment while he waits in jail for his trial on charges of murder connected to 26 women from Vancouver's skid row.

An angry grandfather of one of the women allegedly killed by Mr. Pickton called yesterday for restrictions on Mr. Pickton's right to send letters outside the prison.

"I'm surprised they allow him to send uncensored letters out of jail," Jack Cummer said yesterday in an interview. "I get very angry at this whole process."

However, a criminal lawyer who is not involved in the murder trial said any attempt to limit Mr. Pickton's right to correspond with family and friends would be highly unusual.

"It would be pretty troubling if [police] could put someone in custody who wants to write to a friend that he's innocent and you say he cannot," Victoria lawyer Michael Mulligan said yesterday. "That's pretty objectionable."

Thomas Loudamy, of Fremont, Calif., provided a local Vancouver newspaper last week with two letters allegedly from Mr. Pickton.

Mr. Loudamy was quoted as saying that he wrote to Mr. Pickton because he was shocked by the case and the limited public information available about the accused. He said he used a woman's name as a pseudonym in an effort to be more appealing to Mr. Pickton.

In a letter addressed to someone called Mya, dated Aug. 22, Mr. Pickton allegedly wrote that he was not involved, that he was "a fall-guy" and that the criminals were still at large. He did not write specifically about the charges against him or anything related to the alleged murders or about the missing women.

He also indicated he was feeling good about how the case was proceeding in court. He praised the judge for a decision to split the 26 charges into a group of six charges and a group of 20.

He misrepresented the decision to separate the charges as a decision to drop most of the charges against him. If the court did not drop the charges, it could be hard to keep a jury together and the proceedings could end in a mistrial, he wrote.

He also indicated a connection with religion. He included a biblical quotation: Acts 14:22, which urges believers to remain true to the faith, and, he wrote, "suffer many hard things to get into the holy nation of God."

The letter was printed in neat capital letters, although the grammar and spelling were often wrong. Occasionally, he underlined phrases for emphasis.

Mr. Pickton's trial began on Jan. 30. The court is currently considering the admissibility of evidence. Jury selection is to begin in December.

Mr. Cummer's granddaughter, Andrea Joesbury, is one of the 26 women that Mr. Pickton is alleged to have killed. He said he was upset to see that prison authorities allow Mr. Pickton to send uncensored letters out of jail.

He questioned why Mr. Pickton was allowed to write letters to someone outside prison about anything he likes while lots of other information about the case has not yet been released.

"It's rather bizarre that he sent a letter to a complete stranger telling him, 'I'm innocent.' "

Mr. Cummer was also disturbed by the sensationalism of the case. The letters attracted considerable publicity but his efforts to raise money to help battered women and sexually abused children have not received much public attention, he said, referring to a tribute CD with a song called Missing that has raised only minimal funds.

Mr. Mulligan said it was not uncommon for people in custody to send letters to family and friends while waiting for their trial.

"But in most cases, the letters do not get printed on the front page of a newspaper," he said, referring to the publication of a front page story about the Pickton letter in the Vancouver Sun.

Letters from prison while waiting for trial are often a defence lawyer's worst nightmare, he also said. "In court, those statements cannot help; they can only hurt," he said.

Under the rules in the courtroom, self-serving statements professing Mr. Pickton's innocence cannot be used in court in his defence, Mr. Mulligan said. But the letters could be used by the prosecutor in the case against the accused.

The letter could also undermine efforts by the defence team to argue that the judge should restrict media coverage of the court case. Defence lawyers could complain if evidence is disclosed before a jury is selected.

But the lawyers may have a more difficult task arguing that their client is not receiving a fair trial if their client is telling his side of the case in the news media, Mr. Mulligan said.

Neither defence lawyers nor prosecution lawyers replied yesterday to phone messages requesting an interview.

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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