There’s a funny moment in Alan Young’s book Justice Defiled in which the Toronto law professor says something like, “… by the time you read this the Robert Pickton trial will be underway.” Young’s book was published in 2003, and now we learn that Pickton may not face trial until 2006.
Charges against Pickton could double, judge says
By GREG JOYCE
New Westminster, B.C. — Evidence against accused serial killer Robert Pickton could be as voluminous as that gathered during the 19-year-long investigation into the Air-India disaster, a judge said Monday.
The enormity of the case could mean it may not go to trial until 2006 — four years after Mr. Pickton was originally arrested in February 2002.
By then, the charges against him could more than double, the Crown reiterated Monday.
Mr. Pickton, a pig farmer from suburban Port Coquitlam, is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder connected to some of the missing women from Vancouver’s tough Downtown Eastside.
The Crown has said it expects to add another seven counts before the trial and DNA samples of nine additional women have been identified on the farm. As well, there is a sample from an unknown woman, bringing the total possible number of charges to date to 32.
On Monday, Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm made a plea to the families of the women Mr. Pickton is accused of killing, asking for their understanding in the continuing delays.
“Every effort is being made to get this matter on for trial,” he said. “It may not appear so to the families. I’m asking you to be patient a little while longer.”
The judge described the delay as a situation “that everybody does understand or should understand.”
“There are a very large number of exhibits, probably more so than in the Air India matter,” he said in reference to the trial of two men charged with killing 331 people in two 1985 blasts.
The accused did not attend the hearing but appeared by a videolink, wearing the standard red prison uniform and seated on a chair in a room inside the institution where he is being detained.
Outside court, Crown spokesman Geoff Gaul suggested there could be even more charges beyond the 22 the Crown has already indicated it will pursue.
“There is an indication of potential other charges but the Crown won’t speculate if there will be anything beyond the 15 plus seven.”
Mr. Gaul and Mr. Pickton’s lead lawyer, Peter Ritchie, also reiterated the judge’s observation about the volume of the evidence in the case.
“I think it’s fair to say that this is what one may characterize as a mega-case,” said Mr. Gaul.
Mr. Ritchie told reporters: “I don’t know if anybody’s ever weighed the boxes or looked at all the computer discs but there is a huge amount of information in this case that both sides are dealing with.”
He also said that if all the evidence was printed on paper “it would fill many rooms.”
Crown prosecutor Mike Petrie and Mr. Ritchie told Judge Dohm some of the evidence is still being analysed in labs.
The principals in the case made their comments about the continuing delays because some victims’ families have expressed frustration and anger at the delays in getting the case to trial.
Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn’s DNA was found at the farm site although Mr. Pickton has not been charged with her murder, told reporters he got some comfort from the judge’s comments.
“I was frustrated at the delays to date,” said Mr. Crey. “The delays were confusing but after listening to the judge take the matter in firm hands and establish some signposts for further down the road for the defence and Crown, I felt somewhat more comfortable that the whole process was inching ahead.”
The judge set the next hearing date for March 31, where he said he hoped the lawyers for the defence and Crown would be able to set a timeline for the pre-trial arguments to begin.
Judge Dohm also set a second date of June 27, at which time he said the judge in the trial would be appointed.
Those dates suggest the pre-trial arguments won’t begin until the fall. The court heard those could take as long as four months.
That means the trial itself likely won’t start until 2006.
Mr. Ritchie later told reporters the delays are frustrating for the defence as well.
“Both sides want to get this thing started but we have problems doing it for a number of reasons including the analysis of exhibits.”
The Crown has agreed to a defence request to speed up analysis of some exhibits that could help the defence.
“Some of the results from the analysis of the exhibits may prove very useful to the defence,” said Mr. Ritchie.
Mr. Pickton, 54, has been in custody since his arrest Feb. 7, 2002, when police descended on the farm and other property he and his family owned.
Dozens of investigators, aided by forensic anthropologists, took apart every building on the pig farm and sifted through hundreds of tonnes of dirt looking for evidence.
His lengthy preliminary hearing concluded in June 2003.