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Week 13: Jurors shaken by graphic evidence

Mr. Justice James Williams, of B.C. Supreme Court had warned the seven men and five women of the jury viewing photographs of human remains was part of the task for which they signed

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — It would be during the 13th week of the Robert Pickton murder trial that some of the most graphic evidence to that point would be presented to the jury.
After hearing 20 minutes of the evidence the judge called a 10-minute time-out for jurors to catch their breath. At least two jurors were visibly shaken by the blunt testimony and full-colour, glossy pictures of severed hands and feet, a hair clip on hair attached to a scalp, and part of a head bisected and infested with maggots.
One of the jurors returned to the courtroom after the break with watery eyes, clutching a tissue. As testimony continued, she kept her eyes mostly on the witness, forensic pathologist Dan Straathof, rarely glancing down at the photos of human remains. Others who appeared bothered by the photos followed along with knitted brows, occasionally squirming in their seats. Mr. Pickton listened to the evidence without any visible reaction.
Mr. Justice James Williams, of B.C. Supreme Court had warned the seven men and five women of the jury before Dr. Straathof testified that the evidence would be graphic. Viewing photographs of the human remains was part of the task they signed up for, Judge Williams said. "I hope no one will have insurmountable problems with it," he said, adding that, in his experience, jurors become inured to graphic evidence as they "work" with it.
Mr. Pickton's trial on six murder charges began Jan. 22, 2007. Dr. Straathof told the court that a gunshot to the head was the cause of death of three of the women — Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury and Mona Wilson. The three women were decapitated in the same area of the neck and their heads were bisected in a similar fashion. Likewise, their hands and feet had been dismembered in a similar fashion, Dr. Straathof said.
He also testified to similarities among the sparse remains of the three other women Mr. Pickton is accused of murdering.
The edges on the lower jaw bone of Brenda Wolfe and Marnie Frey — the only remains of the two women found on the farm — were consistent with markings on jaw bones of Ms. Wilson, Ms. Joesbury and Ms. Abotsway, Dr. Straathof said. Hand bones of Georgina Papin appeared to have been separated from her body in a manner that was consistent with what happened to the hands and feet of Ms. Abotsway, Ms. Joesbury and Ms. Wilson, he also told court.
Dr. Straathof was the first witness to testify about how the women died. In the previous weeks of testimony, the jury had heard mostly about the massive search of the Pickton farm and the thousands of items analyzed for evidence.
Despite the discomfort of some jury members with the grisly evidence, defence lawyer Marilyn Sandford pushed ahead.
With clinical coldness, Ms. Sandford pressed Dr. Straathof on details of the dismemberment of Ms. Abotsway. Dr. Straathof spoke softly, pausing frequently before responding to her questions.
Ms. Sandford also engaged Dr. Straathof in an unusual exchange over the best way to dismember a body.
Body parts of Ms. Abotsway had been discovered in a freezer on Mr. Pickton's farm.
Earlier in Week 13, a forensic toxicologist was challenged by one of Mr. Pickton's defence lawyers that at least three of the six women Mr. Pickton is accused of killing died from drug overdoses.
Defence lawyer Richard Brooks grilled witness Heather Dinn about the results she obtained when she conducted drug analysis tests on the remains of Ms. Abotsway, Ms. Joesbury and Ms. Wilson.
She told the jury that street drugs and prescription drugs, including cocaine, methadone and Valium, were found in their tissues, which were analyzed as part of the mammoth investigation after Mr. Pickton's arrest.
Ms. Dinn had told Crown prosecutor Jennifer Lopes about her work with several "jars" of human tissue recovered on the Port Coquitlam property where Mr. Pickton lived.
The jars contained primarily feet, hands, a jaw portion and some brain matter, she said.
While Ms. Dinn did not put any names to the tissue that she analyzed, Mr. Brooks said the tests were conducted on the remains of Ms. Abotsway, Ms. Joesbury and Ms. Wilson.
The jury has already heard that police found the decomposing remains on the property and that they were later identified as being from the three women.
In all cases, Ms. Dinn told the jury, she was asked to look for the presence of drugs, as well as methanol and ethylene glycol. The latter two are more commonly known as the main ingredients in windshield washer fluid and radiator fluid.
Before Ms. Dinn's testimony, forensic chemist Tony Fung testified that he examined a syringe seized by police inside the trailer where Mr. Pickton lived and determined that it contained a diluted solution of methanol or methyl hydrate, also known as automobile windshield washer fluid.
Ms. Dinn testified that some of the samples were sent to a U.S. lab to try to detect windshield washer or radiator fluid, but those tests were negative.
In the first set of tissues she examined, she said she found methadone and cocaine, as well as their metabolites — the compounds produced when those drugs are metabolized in the liver. Another metabolite detected indicated the use of cocaine and alcohol.
In the second set of tissue, she testified about the presence of cocaine and a metabolite for cocaine and alcohol.
The third set of tissue, including the brain matter, indicated the use of diazepam, or Valium, as well as cocaine and methadone and their metabolites.
She told the jury under questioning by the Crown and defence that detecting drug samples from some tissue, such as the matter she worked with, is more difficult than analyzing drug use from blood or brain matter or the liver because the standards used are based on those latter substances.
The fact that the tissue submitted to her was in varying states of decomposition made the task even more difficult.
Under intense questioning by Mr. Brooks, Ms. Dinn refused to agree with his suggestions that the three could have died from drug overdoses.
He said that her reports suggested that the drugs found in tissues of the three deceased fell within a range of what could be fatal.
In each case, however, Ms. Dinn said she could not come to that conclusion because the ranges that Mr. Brooks referred to were based on findings of drugs in a deceased person's liver — not the kind of tissue she examined.
"I must repeat," she said after he tried for the third time. "The logic is incorrect," she added, saying that there is no adequate database to measure levels in tissue as compared to the liver.
Mr. Fung told the court he detected methanol in one syringe he examined that had been seized from Mr. Pickton's trailer.
In the early days of the trial, jurors heard on a videotape that an acquaintance of Mr. Pickton, Scott Chubb, said the accused told him a good way to get rid of someone would be to fill a syringe with windshield washer fluid and inject them.
With a report from Canadian Press

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