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Week 1: Case set out before jury

Long-awated murder trial of Robert Pickton begins with opening statements and video of police interrogation of the suspect made in 2002

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — With the world's media watching, one of the most sensational murder trials ever held in Canada was under way, and B.C. Crown prosecutor Derrill Prevett recited a clinical outline of horrific evidence against pig farmer Robert Pickton.

Listening were the families of the women Mr. Pickton is accused of killing, some with their eyes closed, to accounts of the unfathomable discoveries on the Pickton farm. Some burst into tears, while Mr. Pickton sat expressionless in the prisoner's box.

Mr. Pickton, 57, is charged with murder in the deaths of six drug-dependent women who sold sex at the street corners of Vancouver's bleakest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

That first day, Mr. Pickton sat in the prisoner's box, in a freshly pressed, grey long-sleeved shirt and black jeans, without looking at jurors, the judge or the public gallery. He peered down at his lap and occasionally made notes on a pad.

About 240 witnesses were expected to be called during the trial. In an overview of the prosecution case before witnesses began to testify, Mr. Prevett told the jury that decomposed body parts of Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Mona Wilson were discovered in 2002 on Mr. Pickton's isolated property in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam.

A prostitute will testify that she saw Mr. Pickton engage in butchering the women, court heard.

The Crown also told the court that: Another witness will say Mr. Pickton told him that he killed prostitutes, as well as how he killed them and how he took their bodies to the slaughterhouse on his farm.

In his opening address to the jury, Mr. Justice James Williams of the B.C. Supreme Court warned that some of the evidence would be shocking. "I ask each of you to deal with that as best you can," he said.

However, he was concerned that the evidence would be so distressing, and jurors would have such strong feelings of revulsion and hostility, that they could not remain objective and impartial.

"You should be aware of that possibility and make sure it does not happen to you. Be true to your oath and try the case on evidence without prejudice against or sympathy for anyone," Judge Williams said.

Defence lawyer Peter Ritchie later urged jurors to keep an open mind. He said they should not draw any conclusions until they hear all the evidence.

"The defence position in this trial is clear and it is that Mr. Pickton did not kill or participate in the killing of the six women he is accused of murdering," Mr. Ritchie told court.

The seven men and five women in the jury listened, many with knitted brows.

Mr. Prevett told jurors that Mr. Pickton made incriminating remarks during an 11-hour police interview after he was arrested in February of 2002 and in lengthy conversations before and after the police interview with an undercover officer planted in his cell.

Mr. Prevett said Mr. Pickton told the cell plant that he killed 49 women on his farm and he was planning to do one more to "make it an even 50." He bragged that he might have gotten away with his crimes but he got "sloppy," Mr. Prevett said. "I made my own grave by being sloppy," he said. In the police interview, Mr. Pickton also chided officers for "bad police work." But he told police he was "nailed to the cross."

Mr. Prevett told court that Mr. Pickton tried to strike a deal with the police, asking what it would take for them to close down the investigation and get off the Pickton property. He told police to think about it and get back to him.

The jury heard that body parts, including blood and DNA of the dead women, were found throughout the muddy property — in pig pens, stuffed into garbage bags, in Mr. Pickton's trailer and motorhome and even in soil samples later excavated during a massive police search.

Police found the severed heads, hands and feet of Ms. Joesbury and Ms. Abotsway stuffed into two white five-gallon plastic pails lying on their side in a chest freezer at the back of a workshop on Pickton's suburban farm.

One pail was inserted into another. The uppermost bucket had the decomposed partial remains of Ms. Joesbury, her head cut vertically in two. Her left and right hands and the front part of her left and right feet were also in the bucket.

A bullet had entered the right rear of the head and exited through the left eye. Her jaw was divided by two cuts, one through the jaw and face up to the front of the bone near the top of the head and the second through the rear of the skull extending to the top of the head. The skull fractured where the two cuts ended. Police also found one of Ms. Joesbury's teeth in the bucket, court heard.

When police separated the buckets, they discovered the head, hands and feet of Ms. Abotsway in the bottom one. A cut had been made along the rear of the head, moving across the skull and stopping on the right of the forehead above the right eye. A second cut went through the centre of the face, stopping in the middle of the forehead. Court heard that police also found evidence of a decapitation between second and third vertebrae and a gun shot wound in the head.

Also, a shot had entered the head at the ear, passed through the brain and lodged in the lower section of the skull, Mr. Prevett told court. A .22 calibre bullet was recovered from the bucket, he said. The severed heads, hands and feet of Ms. Wilson, were found in a garbage pail outside a slaughterhouse on the pig farm. The skull had also been vertically bisected and a bullet had penetrated the back of the head. A bullet was recovered in the frontal lobe of her brain.

The Crown said police found only jawbone fragments of Ms. Frey and Ms. Wolfe. Ms. Wolfe's lower jawbone, with five teeth, was found in dirt and debris in a trough beside the slaughterhouse. A fragment of Ms. Frey's jaw with three teeth was found on the farm during an intensive excavation of the grounds.

Mr. Prevett also told the jurors that investigators found one bone from Ms. Papin's hand among a number of bones mixed with debris and manure in a pig pen outside the slaughterhouse of the Pickton farm. They did not find any other body parts of the six women.

But they found personal belongings of some women in Mr. Pickton's trailer, including Ms. Abotsway's asthma inhaler and Ms. Joesbury's date book. The investigators also found a .22 calibre revolver on a shelf above the furnace in the laundry room of the trailer. The barrel of the gun had a dildo (a sex toy) stretched over it. The upper portion of the dildo yielded DNA profiles of both Mr. Pickton and Ms. Wilson.

Earlier, Mr. Prevett said the evidence will prove the women were murdered and Mr. Pickton murdered them over the course of several years.

He told court Mr. Pickton took women to his home in the isolated acreage in Port Coquitlam. "There, the Crown intends to prove, he murdered them, butchered their remains and disposed of them. He had the expertise and equipment for the task. He had the means of transportation available and the means for the disposal of the remains."

The arrest of Mr. Pickton and the subsequent discoveries of female body parts occurred in 2002. By then, dozens of women from the Downtown Eastside had been reported missing. The women — largely drug-addicted prostitutes — began vanishing in the late 1980s. For years, their families and advocates complained that police did not take the disappearances seriously.

RCMP Inspector Don Adam, the first witness to be called, confirmed that suspicion.

Insp. Adam, who would eventually lead the joint probe by the RCMP and Vancouver police, said the Vancouver police case was simply a missing-person's probe and, by 1999, it was badly stalled. In fact, Insp. Adam said, Vancouver police concluded that women had stopped vanishing in 1999.

Insp. Adam thought otherwise and testified that he quickly suspected the missing women were homicide victims.

The joint police probe, dubbed the Missing Women Task Force, began compiling cases of unsolved homicides in British Columbia's Fraser Valley. They also began compiling a list of suspects, chiefly of men who had histories of violent attacks on prostitutes.

Mr. Prevett said Coquitlam RCMP searched the Pickton property on Feb. 5, 2002, on a report of illegal firearms, and subsequently Mr. Pickton was arrested on firearms charges. While searching for the firearms, police spotted several personal items belonging to Ms. Abotsway in Mr. Pickton's trailer, he said. The firearms search was immediately suspended and the Missing Women Task Force began to search the property. Their search continued until November of 2003.

For several days during the trial's first week, the jury heard a videotape of a police interrogation made in 2002. Mr. Pickton had been charged earlier that day — Feb. 23, 2002 — with the murder of two missing women, Ms. Abotsway and Ms. Wilson.

On the tape, he appears as if he had few worries in the world. Slumped in a chair shoved into the corner of a tiny police interview room at the RCMP police station in Surrey, Mr. Pickton responds to questions politely and with patience, speaking slowly in a soft mumble.

"I'm just a pig man; that's all I got to say," Mr. Pickton tells RCMP officer Bill Fordy of the Missing Women Task Force. He laughs and shakes his head as he is told that police, in addition to the murder charges against him, are also investigating the disappearance of about 50 women.

"Wow," he says, dismissing accusations against him as "hogwash." He cannot say much, because he doesn't know anything. "It could be a set-up," he suggests. "There is nothing to say. I don't know anything."

He says he's just a plain working guy. "That's all I am and now I got all those charges," casting his eyes downward to the floor. "It's a little far-fetched, isn't it?"

Throughout the opening hours of the interview, Mr. Pickton responds to police questions without hostility or aggression. He appears comfortable with long silences. He shows no emotion.

Mr. Pickton wears dirty-looking street clothes, slacks, a T-shirt and a hoodie sweatshirt. Staff-Sgt. Fordy, who was a sergeant at that time, sits a few metres away, at the edge of a small table.

Almost three hours after the interview begins, Staff-Sgt. Fordy plunks a poster in front of Mr. Pickton. It shows the faces of 48 women who have vanished from Vancouver's streets. "Have any of these women been to your place?" Staff-Sgt. Fordy asks.

Mr. Pickton replies that he can't keep track of all the women who come and go from his house. He tells his interrogator that he's good with numbers but bad with faces.

"I do not remember faces," he says. "Which ones am I supposed to [be] charged for, for murder, if you don't mind me asking?" The officer says he doesn't mind at all and points to one of the women. Mr. Pickton asks: "That one? Who the hell is she?"

He is told other witnesses say some of the women were at his place. "No way," says Mr. Pickton. "I don't know any of these women."

"Have you even had sex with any of those girls?" the police officer continues. "Not that I'm aware of," Mr. Pickton says.

The officer then points to each face on the poster, one by one, and asks Mr. Pickton if he knows any, or brought them to his house.

Mr. Pickton says "No" to each woman. From time to time, he remarks on how pretty some of them are.

Staff-Sgt. Fordy turns the subject to sex with prostitutes and asks about Mr. Pickton's first experience with "a working girl."

Mr. Pickton says it was with a woman who stabbed him in 1997.

After four hours of intense interrogation, Mr. Pickton began reacting emotionally to repeated accusations that he murdered two women, and possibly more.

"I'm sorry for living," Mr. Pickton says, as he is pressed about what happened to several of Vancouver's missing women. Looking as if he was about to shed a tear, he says he would trade his life for any of those women if he could.

But 30 minutes later, he raises his voice and, waving his hands, insists he did not kill Mona Wilson or any other woman that he has been accused of killing. "What makes you think I did it?" he asks.

He continues to deny committing the murders even after he is shown a taped police interview in which an acquaintance, Andrew Bellwood, can be heard saying Mr. Pickton had told him how he kills women. "He shows me how he does it," Mr. Bellwood told the police. Mr. Pickton said he killed women from behind, bled them and fed them to his pigs, Mr. Bellwood recalled.

"Funny stories there, aren't they," Mr. Pickton says after the tape is played during the interrogation.

Mr. Pickton had earlier been shown a police interview with another friend, Dwayne Chubb, who recalled Mr. Pickton advising that an injection of windshield washer fluid was a good way to kill a drug addict.

Mr. Pickton told his interrogator he was surprised that Mr. Chubb had spoken to police. He did not react to the accusation.

On several occasions, Mr. Pickton says he should not talk to the police without a lawyer. The police agree and tell him it is up to him if he wishes to say anything. He continues to talk.

At least three times in the early hours of the police interview, Mr. Pickton says that he wants to return to his cell. The police say they are not going to take him and continue with the interrogation.

As the hours pass during the interview, Mr. Pickton appears to become more and more depressed. For extended periods, he sinks lower in his chair, his eyes closed and head bent over in his left hand, as if trying to shield himself from the verbal onslaught.

"So I'm being charged with murder two, two murders, right?" he says, six hours into the interview. "Yup, for now," replies Staff-Sgt. Fordy, who was sergeant at the time. "How does that make you feel, Rob?

"Makes me feel sick," Mr. Pickton replies. He asks if he is going to get bail. "Absolutely not," Staff-Sgt. Fordy says, as he continues to press Mr. Pickton.

"I didn't do anything," Mr. Pickton says.

"I'm locked up forever," he tells Constable Dana Lillies later, after she steps in to take over for Staff-Sgt. Fordy in the interrogation room.

Constable Lillies asks him if he has eaten during the interrogation.

"Do I deserve anything to eat?" Mr. Pickton asks. "I should be on death row. . . . I'm finished. . . . I'm dead. I'm a walking corpse."

When Constable Lillies pushes him for answers, he says he didn't do anything. But he also says he feels it's pointless to respond.

"What's it gonna do? I'm nailed to the cross," he says.

Mr. Pickton says he might as well accept that he is going to spend the rest of his life in jail.

"I want to die," Mr. Pickton says.

The officer goes over in graphic detail the evidence found by police on the Pickton farm. For much of the time, Mr. Pickton sits unmoved by whatever he hears, asking how the evidence is connected to him.

The DNA proof is irrefutable, Staff-Sgt. Fordy says, as he shows Mr. Pickton photos of blood on mattresses, floors and walls and a spot where a body has been dragged. "It's huge amounts of blood, Rob," Staff-Sgt. Fordy says, adding it was Ms. Wilson's blood.

"But that don't mean I did it," Mr. Pickton says. "I didn't do anything, I don't know her. . . . I don't know her face or anything else."

Staff-Sgt. Fordy then compliments the prisoner, telling Mr. Pickton: "I know you're smart. But you've made mistakes."

"I didn't kill anyone," Mr. Pickton says.

Staff-Sgt. Fordy tries a different tack.

"You got a freight train of evidence coming down the track. It's a super freight train and it's only been going for two weeks," he says. "In a year, it's going to be unbelievable how much evidence there is going to be. The only question now is what kind of person is Robert Pickton." The approach has no impact.

After 10 hours of intensive interrogation, Mr. Pickton looks exhausted. For long periods during the questioning, he was crumpled up in his chair with his eyes closed, yawning, listening in silence as police officer after police officer accuses him of horrendous crimes. He repeatedly asserts his innocence.

Then suddenly, Mr. Pickton's demeanour changes. He laughs heartily as he talks about police digging up his farm looking for bodies. He speaks without remorse about the death of the missing women. "Shit happens," he tells police when asked to think about the families of the missing women.

In its final 90 minutes, Mr. Pickton speaks and court see how he acts as if he has the upper hand. As he leans back and rests his foot on a nearby table, he tries to negotiate a deal with the police.

In a startling reversal after hours of denial, Mr. Pickton offers to plead guilty to two or more murders if police would immediately stop the massive investigation at his farm property in Port Coquitlam. "I'm talking about going to court or whatever," he says.

Insp. Adam, the third interrogator to press Mr. Pickton for a confession, asks if he will plead guilty. "Um hum," Mr. Pickton responds, sounding alert despite the lengthy interrogation. To how many, the officer asks.

"Whatever charged with," Mr., Pickton says, adding, "I'll finally admit to everything if you pull fences down." The police had fenced off the farm for their investigation.

Mr. Pickton said he wanted the police to clear out so his brother Dave could continue working on the farm. Police at that time had found evidence linking Mr. Pickton to Ms. Abotsway and Ms. Wilson but had not yet found any human remains on the property.

Police found bloodstains all over a motorhome on his property because he was "sloppy," he said.

But when Insp. Adam presses for details, the cagey prisoner retreats.

"No comment," Mr. Pickton repeats over and over. "You make me out a murderer more than I am," he says during another exchange.

At one point in the videotape court hears Insp. Adam attempt to narrow the conversation to the death of Ms. Wilson. He tells Mr. Pickton Ms. Wilson's blood is all over a trailer and suggests Mr. Pickton beat her.

"Hitting her?" Mr. Pickton asks in surprise. "What do you mean? No, no, no. You're, you guys are way off the deep end."

Later, Mr. Pickton hints that he killed two to three women but, again, won't provide details.

"So my question is; "How many?" Insp. Adam asks.

Mr. Pickton replies: "I'd say two, probably two. Maybe three.

Insp. Adam asks: So, we got Mona obvious, right?"

"No, we got noboby yet," Mr. Pickton responds quickly.

The banter between the two men on the videotape continued for hours. Insp. Adam would extract a nugget of information. Mr. Pickton would tease back with hints of "sloppiness" and suggestions that he planned more.

But each time Insp. Adam pressed for details, the prisoner backed off. More than once, he burst out laughing.

"Did you shoot her (Mona Wilson)?" Insp. Adam asked.

"Shoot her?" Mr. Pickton replied sounding surprised that a woman was dead.

"Whatever you did caused a lot of blood right?" Staff Sgt. Adam said.

"Um hum. You did some of your homework," Mr. Pickton shot back.

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