Thursday, June 25, 2009
Serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton's bid for new trial turned down
VANCOUVER Serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton, convicted of six counts of second-degree murder, had his bid for a new trial turned down Thursday by the B.C. Court of Appeal in a 2 to 1 decision.
In a separate ruling, the three Court of Appeal justices unanimously agreed with the Crown that errors were made in Pickton's trial, such as the 26 charges against him being divided into two trials. But it said, as per the Crown's request, that no additional trial would be immediately ordered to try Pickton on all 26 counts because Pickton's appeal bid has failed.
That means Pickton will continue to serve a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
However, because Pickton's appeal ruling was split, he can automatically appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada which could overrule this Court of Appeal ruling. Should the Supreme Court order a new trial, then the Crown could opt to proceed on all 26 counts.
Neil MacKenzie, communications counsel for the criminal justice branch, said the decision means Pickton's second-degree murder convictions stand.
As well, Pickton must spend at least 25 years in jail before becoming eligible for parole.
But he remained guarded in his comments, noting that because of the dissenting judge, Pickton has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. He said the province would be continuing to review the "long, complicated decision," in the coming weeks.
He added that if Pickton exhausts all his appeals and the convictions continue to stand, the Crown won't proceed with the other 20 murder charges because it would not result in a greater penalty.
Pickton's defence had argued that the Crown throughout the trial had argued that Pickton acted alone, but in response to a question by the jury during deliberations did an about-face and suggested he could have acted with someone else.
But Justice Richard Low, writing the judgment in concurrence with B.C. Court of Appeal Chief Justice Lance Finch, disagreed, saying the possiblity Pickton acted with someone else was a possiblity throughout the trial.
"The evidence supported the conclusion that the appellant committed each of the killings or that he actively participated in each of them (or one or more of them) in concert with another person," Low wrote.
Pickton's appeal argument also alleged that trial judge James Williams erred in his response to the jury question. While Low and Finch found portions of his charge to the jury contained "glaring inconsistency" and was "irreconcilable," they disagreed that Williams had erred in his first and second response to the question.
However, Justice Ian Donald disagreed with his colleagues, concluding that Williams made "a serious error of law" and that there was a "miscarriage of justice."
His reasons included the fact that he did not think it was fair for the Crown to introduce the possiblitiy Pickton acted with someone else so late in the trial.
"I view the Crown's behaviour as scrambling to recover ground by advancing a co-perpetrator theory when the jury question indicated they wer having a problem with the sole perpetrator theory," he said.
"Despite the body of evidence against Pickton, the jury deliberated over nine days and reached the somewhat curious result of second degree murder. While it is impossible to know with certainty what was behind the lengthy deliberations and the acquittal on first degree murder, the lack of a full development of party liability in the charge cannot be dimissed as a cause."
The Crown's appeal alleged several errors in law were made, and the three Court of Appeal justices unanimously agreed with many of the points. They said Williams erred by severing the counts into two trials and by not allowing a key Crown witness to testify at trial but the nature of her evidence cannot be reported because of a publication ban. The judge also erred, the justices said, because he didn't allow certain similar fact evidence to be heard by the jury; that evidence is also under a publication ban.
"If Mr. Pickton remains convicted of second degree murder on those six counts after all appeals are concluded, there would be no useful purpose in a retrial on those same offences as charges of first degree murder. Such a trial would impose further enormous demands on financial and judicial resources to achieve a final practical disposition that has alredy been arrived at on the first trial. It would be manifestly redundant and unfair to compel such a result."
The Pickton case was the largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history. Two years ago, officials estimated the police investigation cost about $70 million, with the trial costs estimated at another $46 million.
Pickton, 60, was originally charged with the first-degree murder of 27 women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
One charge involving an unknown victim listed as "Jane Doe" was stayed by the trial judge, who then decided the remaining 26 counts should be divided into two trials — one involving six charges and the other involving 20 murder counts.
Witnesses at Pickton's trial testified about how he often butchered pigs on his sprawling Port Coquitlam farm, which was surrounded by residential development.
© The Vancouver Sun
Created: June 26, 2009
Last modified: July 19, 2009
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