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.