Seven new charges for Pickton, now accused of killing 22 women

Crown expected to bring Canada's worst accused serial killer to trial in September 2004

Lori Culbert
Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Provincial court Judge David Stone in a preliminary hearing in July said he would have committed Robert Pickton to stand trial on seven additional counts of murder if they had been part of the original indictment. In his ruling, Stone said those pertain to Sarah de Vries, Angela Jardine, Cindy Feliks, Marnie Frey, Diana Melnick, Tiffany Drew and an unidentified woman the court is calling Jane Doe.

Robert Pickton appeared at Monday's hearing by video link. CREDIT: Felicity Don, Special to the Sun

Robert (Willy) Pickton will face seven new first-degree murder charges, bringing the total number of women he is accused of killing to 22, Crown counsel announced Monday.

The Port Coquitlam pig farmer, who is already accused of being Canada's worst serial killer, has not officially been charged with the new counts, but that will happen before the start of his lengthy murder trial.

"We've advised the court today that we intend to proceed on 22 counts, that's up from the 15 that he's currently charged with," said Geoffrey Gaul, spokesman for the Crown. "The decision to make the announcement was taken over the weekend and confirmed [Monday] morning."

Thousands of exhibits seized from Pickton's farm since his February 2002 arrest still need to be analysed by the RCMP lab, and that is expected to take at least until June 2004.

Sarah de Vries

As a result, Pickton's trial is not anticipated to begin until September 2004, at the earliest, Crown counsel Mike Petrie said in New Westminster Supreme Court Monday. Pickton appeared by video link at the hearing, which had been scheduled to set a trial date.

Petrie and Gaul would not name the seven new victims.

However, at the conclusion of Pickton's preliminary hearing in July, provincial court Judge David Stone said he would have committed Pickton to stand trial on the seven additional counts of murder if they had been part of the original indictment. In his ruling, Stone said those pertain to Tiffany Drew, Sarah de Vries, Marnie Frey, Cindy Feliks, Angela Jardine, Diana Melnick and an unidentified woman the court is calling Jane Doe.

Most of those women, like the 15 Pickton was previously charged with killing, were missing sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside who were drug users.

Gaul said there was not a "delay or difficulty" with the seven additional charges, but added the Crown wanted to ensure it was ready to proceed on the counts before laying the indictment.

Angela Jardine

Petrie said in court he would like to proceed to trial as quickly as possible, and did not feel it is necessary to wait for the analysis of the "warehouse" full of exhibits.

But Pickton's lawyer Peter Ritchie disagreed, saying he needs to see "the full picture" before preparing a defence.

Petrie told the court he has asked police to prioritize the exhibits to get a "speedy resolution" to the analysis of the items seized from the farm. He added that new robotics expected to be in use at the lab as early as January will "substantially speed up the process."

Gaul would not comment when asked by reporters about the possibility of Pickton facing even more charges based on the outcome of the lab work.

Ritchie said his client, who is in custody, is anxious to have his trial start as soon as the exhibit analysis is complete. Apparently referring to the new robotics being introduced to the lab, Ritchie told the court: "We're a bit in the hands of developing technology."

Cindy Feliks

"We remain optimistic that the state of the analysis will improve by [June]," he added.

However, Ritchie told reporters outside court that expecting the trial to proceed in September, 2004 may be more optimistic than realistic.

Ritchie said he was not surprised by the Crown's decision to pursue an extra seven charges against his client, but added it will make the defence's job more difficult.

"It adds to the challenge of trying to analyse all of the material that we receive," he said.

Pickton, 53, is to appear in court again June 28, when the two sides hope to set a trial date. Outside court, Gaul cautioned that even if pre-trial procedures begin in September 2004, it could be some time before the actual trial begins.

Marnie Frey

"Whether we're talking in the early new year, or in the spring of 2005, it will depend on the pre-trial motions," Gaul said.

Petrie raised concerns in court Monday that waiting until June to book court time could be problematic.

But Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm, who will oversee the Pickton proceedings until a permanent trial judge is appointed, promised Petrie that the Pickton matter will be a top priority for the New Westminster courthouse and the legal system once a date is picked.

"You have my assurance that when this trial is ready, we will be ready," Dohm said. "There will be no lineups waiting for a judge."

Dohm said it is paramount that the trial, once under way, be fluid, without any unnecessary delays, in consideration of all the people affected by the high-profile case.

Diana Melnick

Dohm added that renovations, which "will take some time," must be made in one of the courtrooms to accommodate the unprecedented trial, which is scheduled to be heard by judge and jury.

Maggie de Vries has known for about a year that her sister Sarah's death is connected to the Pickton investigation, but said Monday that it is "difficult to absorb" the new charges.

"It's a sense of the next step. In that sense it's a positive development. It may be that it strengthens the case having 22 charges, instead of 15, so that's a good thing," said de Vries, an author who has written a book about her sister.

"For me it will make the trial more difficult because the trial now will unequivocally include my sister."

Rick Frey, father of Marnie Frey, said that he has found it an excruciating wait for this next development in the complex case.

"It's been long enough now," said Frey, a fisherman from Campbell River. "As a father who has lost his daughter, it's tough.

Tiffany Drew

"Now hopefully to have the charges laid is another part of it. But it eats you up, and leaves a big hole in the stomach."

Marnie's step-mother Lynn Frey said the news is upsetting.

"At first it was a real shock and I got sick to my stomach. I'm glad, of course, what happened, but at the same time it doesn't make it any easier."

The 15 women Pickton is accused of murdering are Patricia Johnson, Mona Wilson, Dianne Rock, Heather Bottomley, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving, Georgina Papin, Helen Hallmark, Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Jacqueline McDonell, Heather Chinnock, Inga Hall and Jennifer Furminger.

Police and anthropology students searched Pickton's farm for 21 months looking for evidence. The search is now complete.

'Jane Doe'

Stone said in his ruling in the summer that the case was extremely complex because it began with Pickton facing two counts of first-degree murder in February 2002, and that increased to 15 by the time the preliminary hearing began last December.

The trial is expected to last longer than the preliminary hearing, which heard testimony for 60 days over a six-month period. The Crown called 85 witnesses at the preliminary hearing, which was subjected to a sweeping publication ban, and anticipates asking at least that many people to testify during a trial.


 Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun



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