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Week 14: Jury hears missing women had troubling lives

Details about when the women were last seen were introduced in court by agreement of both the prosecution and defence, which was expected to reduce the length of the trial by several weeks

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — For the first time since the trial began January 22, jurors at the murder trial of Robert Pickton heard about the difficult lives of the women he is accused of killing.

They heard details about when the women were last known to be alive and about their contact with police, welfare agencies and medical services. The jury also heard from the co-ordinator of a drop-in centre for prostitutes Elaine Allan, a co-ordinator at WISH, an evening drop-in centre for prostitutes in the neighbourhood of Vancouver known as the Downtown Eastside, said she met all the women except Marnie Frey.

Four of the women - Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury and Georgina Papin - used drugs and worked in prostitution, Ms. Allan told court. She assumed Brenda Wolfe was a prostitute because she came to WISH.

Details about when they were last seen were introduced in court by agreement of both the prosecution and defence. The process was expected to reduce the length of the trial by several weeks.

Here's what the jury, during the 14th week of the trial, was told about the women:

Ms. Abotsway, who was reported missing on Aug. 22, 2001, was often beaten up and had gone to the police on several occasions for help. She had received more than 300 prescriptions in the six years before she went missing. Her final prescription was on July 19, 2001.

Ms. Wilson, who was often seen carrying a crack pipe, received more than 700 prescriptions in the six years before she was reported missing on Nov 30, 2001. Most of them were for methadone maintenance. She had been arrested for theft, fraud and uttering threats and had been detained for shoplifting.

Ms. Joesbury, who was also in a methadone maintenance program, was a polite, quiet woman. A street nurse reported her missing on June 8, 2001. She had failed to show up to have the dressing on a foot wound changed.

Ms. Wolfe's sister reported her missing on April 25, 2000. Her billings under Pharmanet and with the medical services plan had stopped in February, 1999. A welfare worker noted in her file that Ms. Wolfe, who had two children, had spent all her money on Christmas and she needed bread and milk. The file also showed that Ms. Wolfe had been evicted from her home in late February of 1999. She was an intravenous drug user. Her contact with police included an arrest for fraud involving a stolen travellers cheque.

Ms. Papin was reported missing on March 4, 2001, two years after she stopped picking up prescription medicines and using the medical services plan. The Ministry of Human Resources had provided funds for milk and food. Her contacts with police included an arrest for robbery, shoplifting, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, and breaking and entering.

Ms. Frey was reported missing Dec. 29, 1997. Her last medical bill was dated May 25, 1997. She had been in a detoxification and rehab program a few months before she disappeared. She cashed a welfare cheque on Sept. 24, 1997. She was not seen after that date.

Earlier in the 14th week, the jury heard from a tool-mark expert who demonstrated the use of a red hand-held reciprocating saw that came from a table in the slaughterhouse on the Pickton pig farm.

Jury members appeared visibly bothered by the saw, but trial judge, Mr. Justice James Williams, broke the tension with a light-hearted comment, asking whether Phil Ziegler intended to take off the plastic sheath protecting the blade before starting the motor. Judge Williams said he wanted to ensure he would not be hit in the face if the cover flew off the blade. Jurors smiled and appeared to relax as Mr. Ziegler stepped out of the witness box to plug in the saw and then pulled the trigger to start up the motor.

Mr. Ziegler told the jury that marks on the edges of the split skulls of Ms. Joesbury, Ms. Abotsway and Ms. Wilson and marks on the edge of part of the right lower jaw bone of Ms. Wolfe were similar.

Mr. Ziegler said he examined cut marks from 45 blades that fit the electric saw. Ten of the blades could not be either eliminated or definitely associated with the saw cuts in the bones, he said.

The saw may have been used to cut the skulls and jaw bone, although he was unable to state positively that they did make the cuts, he said.

Mr. Ziegler cautioned that he could not determine if a hand saw or power saw was used to cut Ms. Wolfe's jaw bone. But damage to the split skulls of Ms. Abotsway and Ms. Joesbury was consistent with having been caused by a hand-held reciprocating power saw, he said.

Mr. Ziegler also told the jury he examined several rib bones, heel bones and vertebrae found on the Pickton farm. The bones were human, he said. The rib bones had cut marks that were consistent with having been caused by a power saw, he said.

Earlier, Mr. Ziegler, who was also recognized by the court as a firearms expert, testified that a cartridge case found outside the slaughterhouse had been fired by a gun found in Mr. Pickton's trailer.

However, he could not link the bullet found in the left half of the skull of Ms. Abotsway with any specific firearm. The bullet of soft metal was badly corroded. The tell-tale markings used by firearm experts to link a bullet to a gun were not available, he said.

Similarly, Mr. Ziegler said he could not eliminate or confirm a link between a .22 calibre bullet found in a bucket with Ms. Wilson's skull and a gun found in Mr. Pickton's trailer.

Also during the 14th week, court was shown a plastic skull with bright, coloured lines that marked where prosecutors say an electric saw bisected the heads of women whom Mr. Pickton has been accused of murdering. Colour-coded dots marked the spots where .22 calibre bullets allegedly entered and exited the skulls of the women.

Brian McConaghy, a forensic firearms and tool mark expert, told the court in detail about how the heads were split apart. Mr. Pickton appeared to be listening closely, sitting almost motionless in the prisoner's box.

Turning the plastic skull upside down, Mr. McConaghy pointed with his finger to where a saw had sliced through the rear of the head of Ms. Wilson. A second cut went through her jaw and up her face, he said.

Earlier, Mr. McConaghy pointed to a photograph of the bisected head of Ms. Joesbury. A hole where a bullet likely exited the skull in the rear of her head could be seen through the left eye socket, he said, as the jury peered at the photographs.

Mr. McConaghy indicated that the heads of Ms. Joesbury, Ms. Wilson and Ms. Abotsway were split in a similar fashion. The cuts in the front and back did not meet.

The skulls were broken apart at the top, he said.

Mr. Ziegler had told the court that none of the saws or saw blades found on the pig farm could be directly tied to the cut marks found on the bisected skulls.

Bullets found with the skulls of Ms. Wilson and Ms. Abotsway were never matched to any firearm found on the Pickton property, he also said.

The police had found the bisected head and dismembered hands and feet of Ms. Abotsway, Ms. Wilson and Ms. Joesbury in buckets on the pig farm. They did not find any further remains of the women.

A .22 calibre bullet was found with the remains of Ms. Abotsway and Ms. Wilson. A .22 calibre gun, with a dildo pulled over the barrel, was found in Mr. Pickton's home. Cellophane was wrapped around the barrel to enable the dildo to fit on tightly.

In response to questions from defence counsel Marilyn Sandford, Mr. Ziegler said he examined the cellophane and found a substance that was consistent with residue from a firearm that had been fired.

However, the presence of residue did not suggest anything about whether the cellophane was on the gun found at the pig farm at the time the gun was fired, he agreed in response to questioning.

Mr. Ziegler also confirmed that the dildo did not have a hole and the gun was not fired while the dildo was stretched over the gun barrel.

Mr. Pickton is on trial for the murder of six women. He faces an additional 20 charges of murder.

A date has not yet been set for a second trial.

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