Vancouver: Conviction in murder of six upheld

http://www.vancouversun.com
VANCOUVER SUN
Friday, June 26, 2009

LORI CULBERT
WITH FILES FROM IAN MULGREW AND LARRY PYNN

Court’s ruling is bittersweet news for loved ones of the 26 women Pickton is accused of killing

[photo caption]
Susie Kinshella, sister of missing woman Wendy Crawford. Kinshella wants a verdict on behalf of her sister.
Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

Serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton’s six second-degree murder convictions have been upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal, which has turned down his bid for a new trial.

It was bittersweet news for loved ones of the 26 women Pickton is accused of killing.

Relatives of the six women he has been convicted of killing were cautiously relieved. But the ruling means Pickton will not — pending a further appeal — be tried in court for the murder of the other 20 women, a devastating blow for many of those families.

“I’m so hurt that the system doesn’t have a heart for the remaining families,” Lilliane Beaudoin, sister of Dianne Rock (one of the other 20 women), said from her Ontario home.

“Dianne’s not going to be acknowledged. How can they allow this to happen to anyone, to any human being? What is the system for? It’s to go out there and catch the perpetrator and bring him to justice. And they are not doing this for us.”

B.C. Attorney-General Mike de Jong acknowledged some families are disappointed, but said there is no plan to proceed with any further trials against Pickton because he is already serving the harshest sentence available in Canada — life with no chance of parole for 25 years.

That situation would only change, de Jong said, if the defence appeals Thursday’s rulings and the Supreme Court of Canada orders a new trial. In that case, the Crown would proceed with all 26 counts at any new trial.

“This was a tough day for a lot of families of victims who are themselves victims, and it doesn’t get any easier for them,” de Jong conceded.

There were two rulings issued Thursday by the three B.C. Court of Appeal justices who presided over the Pickton appeal hearing this spring.

In a 2-1 split decision, the court turned down Pickton’s bid for a new trial, largely rejecting many of the defence arguments.

The Crown, Pickton’s defence had argued, pursued a theory during the trial that Pickton had acted alone, but as a result of a question by the jury during deliberations switched gears and suggested he could have had an accomplice.

Justice Richard Low, writing the judgment in concurrence with Chief Justice Lance Finch, disagreed, saying the possibility of an accomplice existed throughout the trial.

“The evidence supported the conclusion that [Pickton] 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 defence also alleged trial judge James Williams erred in his response to the jury question.

While Low and Finch said there was a “glaring inconsistency” in some of the points Williams made in his charge to the jury that might have led to the jury’s question, they disagreed Williams had messed up his reply to the jury.

However, Justice Ian Donald disagreed with his colleagues, saying that Williams made “a serious error of law” and that there was a “miscarriage of justice.”

Donald did not think it was fair for the Crown to introduce the possibility Pickton acted with someone else so late in the trial. “I view the Crown’s behaviour as scrambling to recover ground.”

The confusion could have led to the jury’s verdict of second-degree murder, instead of first-degree, Donald wrote. “Despite the body of evidence against Pickton, the jury deliberated over nine days and reached the somewhat curious result of second-degree murder.”

The Appeal Court also released a ruling on a separate appeal by the Crown.
The three justices unanimously agreed with the Crown that Williams made several errors in law, included severing the 26 counts into two trials; not allowing a key witness to testify; and prohibiting certain similar fact evidence from being admitted. Most details about this evidence are protected by a publication ban.

Still, they said, “there would be no useful purpose” to remedy these errors by ordering a new trial on 26 counts of first-degree murder if Pickton’s six convictions are upheld and he continues to serve his life sentence.

“Such a trial would impose further enormous demands on financial and judicial resources to achieve a final practical disposition that has already been arrived at on the first trial. It would be manifestly redundant and unfair to compel such a result,” Finch wrote.

Because there was a dissenting judge in the defence appeal, Pickton has an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada and must decide whether to do so in two months, de Jong said.

Defence lawyer Patrick McGowan said it will take time to review the complex rulings and decide on the next step. “I will have to consult with my client and other defence lawyers,” he said.

Pickton was convicted in December 2007 of killing six women: Mona Wilson, Brenda Wolfe, Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey and Georgina Papin.

Papin’s sister Cynthia Cardinal has heartfelt sympathy for the other 20 families, but also feels some relief that — depending on the outcome of a future appeal — Papin’s journey is almost over.

“We finally come to the resolution that Pickton is taking his last chance at it if he goes to the Supreme Court, and that will be it. Then we can have a funeral, and we can’t do that until we get her [body] back,” Cardinal said from her Edmonton home.

Right now, those remains are still considered evidence.

The rulings were bad news for Susie Kinshella because her sister Wendy Crawford is one of the 20 women Pickton has been accused of killing but for whom he may never face a trial.

“The government came to my house and said, ‘[Pickton] is being charged with your sister’s murder,'” she said.

Kinshella doesn’t care that Pickton is already serving a life sentence: “I care that there’s been a guilty or not guilty [verdict] on behalf of my sister.”

Lynn Frey is happy the court upheld Pickton’s conviction for killing her stepdaughter Marnie, but she still feels there is “no accountability in the justice system” for the other 20 families. “Are they ever going to get closure?”

Marnie’s daughter Brittney, 16, was also disappointed Thursday. She had been hoping for some resolution on when the families will receive the victims’ remains so they can have proper burials.

“She’s very confused. She’s almost 17. She’s just a kid. She just wants her mom,” Lynn Frey said of Brittney.

lculbert@vancouversun.com

Lynn Frey ( centre ), stepmother of victim Marnie Frey, leaves court.
Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

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