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Week 17: Pig farmer had referred to suicide as 'the only way out' of predicament

Court heard Pickton had given a close female friend nearly $80,000 and her children called him 'daddy'

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — Robert Pickton told a close friend who he once wanted to marry that police would likely find as many as six bodies on his pig farm, the first-degree murder trial heard during its 17th week.

Gina Houston, a drug user and cancer patient who looked 20 years older than her age of 39, recounted the conversation in some of the most emotional moments yet in the sensational trial that began four months ago.

Looking haggard and extremely thin, Ms. Houston was brought to the witness box in a wheelchair. She was not strong enough to hold a binder of exhibit photos. She spoke quietly, occasionally pausing as if mustering enough strength to finish her sentences, while she was pressed to tell the court what she remembered about her encounters with Mr. Pickton.

Ms. Houston broke down on the stand as she talked about her close relationship with Mr. Pickton. Her two daughters called him "Daddy," she said. Shortly afterwards, the court session for the day was adjourned. Mr. Justice James Williams told the jury that Ms. Houston had found testifying at the trial to be "a very difficult day, given her health."

Mr. Pickton is on trial charged with the murder of six women. Ms. Houston, the 84th witness to testify at the trial, told jurors she was a very close friend of Mr. Pickton beginning in 1996, although they were never physically intimate. He wanted to marry her, she said.

He was a positive influence in her life who took a parental role with her three children, she said.

Over the years, Mr. Pickton gave her as much as $80,000. She said she spent about half of the money on drugs — cocaine and marijuana. She said she could not offer any explanation why he gave her so much money. She did not do anything specific to receive the funds.

Ms. Houston recalled a conversation she had with Mr. Pickton two days before he was arrested in 2002. She did not remember Mr. Pickton's exact words. In the conversation, she asked him about voices that she had overheard while she was talking to him on the telephone in November, 2001.

Mr. Pickton told her that a woman named Mona was hurt while they were on the phone. She did not know Mona's last name. (Mona Wilson is the name of one of the six women that Mr. Pickton is accused of murdering.) Ms. Houston recalled that Mr. Pickton said he tried after hanging up to do everything he could for Mona, but she did not make it.

Ms. Houston asked if he told the police. Mr. Pickton replied he hadn't. She asked why he did not tell the police. He was hesitant, Ms. Houston said.

"I asked if she was still somewhere in the piggery, and he said yes. I asked what was next to her. He told me one, two, three, four, five or six bodies," Ms. Houston said.

She asked where the bodies were. He said they were in the "cock pen," a room in the slaughterhouse on the farm where cock fights were held.

Mr. Pickton suggested "the only way out" for him and Ms. Houston was suicide, she told the court. She thought "he was joking," she said. "And then I noticed he had tears running out of his eyes." He made the remark because "he did not want to go to jail," she said.

Mr. Pickton included her in his situation because he felt that everything that happened to him was her fault, she said. Mr. Pickton never explained why he believed this, she told the court.

Three family members of victims were in the public gallery to hear Ms. Houston's testimony. However, they retreated to a private viewing room to follow the proceedings as Ms. Houston began recounting her conversation with Mr. Pickton.

Mr. Pickton was busy writing notes to his lawyer as Ms. Houston testified about the conversation. But as she talked about her affection for him, Mr. Pickton stopped writing and looked up. Ms. Houston kept her eyes on the lawyer asking questions and did not look at him.

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