NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. After almost a year of testimony, lawyers for the Crown and the defence in the trial of accused serial killer Robert Pickton will begin delivering what's sure to be one of the most complex and crucial final arguments of their careers Monday.
Pickton defence lawyer Peter Ritchie will try to remind jurors his client is a simple pig farmer, a bit too dim to get jokes, and living on a farm with all manner of friends and strangers coming and going, including some that had connections to the six women Pickton is accused of killing.
Crown lawyer Mike Petrie will attempt to knit together the gruesome findings of police who combed Mr. Pickton's farm, the 22 hours of taped conversations in which Mr. Pickton appeared to confess to the killings, the macabre testimony of a woman who said she saw Mr. Pickton with one of the dead women and days and days of dry scientific evidence.
They'll each get a day and a half to sum up their view of one of the longest criminal trials in Canadian history.
Seven men and five women, selected as jurors last December, began hearing evidence Jan. 22.
They listened to the sworn testimony of 128 witnesses — 98 Crown and 30 defence, including police officers, forensic experts, friends and acquaintances of Mr. Pickton and others who worked for various times on his property in Port Coquitlam, east of Vancouver.
The Crown has to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Mr. Pickton is guilty and Mr. Petrie will get the last word, delivering his summation after the defence.
The defence has to prove nothing; they must only convince the jury that there is a reasonable doubt in order to get an acquittal.
“The point of a closing argument is to bring together all the evidence that supports that side's theory,” said Victoria defence lawyer Susan Wishart.
“The job of counsel in closing is to link all the bits and pieces of evidence together because witnesses aren't often called in chronological order.”
The major pieces of evidence for the Crown included incriminating statements Mr. Pickton made after his arrest to an undercover police officer placed in his cell, and also during his 11-hour interrogation.
He was charged with killing 26 women in total. A trial on the remaining 20 charges is expected after these proceedings conclude.
At the current trial, police officers testified they found the decomposing heads of three women in buckets and a garbage bag close to his trailer.
They found hand bones of another victim as well as the partial jawbones of two other women.
The jury heard forensic experts talk about the deceased women's DNA on the property and investigators testified about personal articles of the women found on the property.
Several civilian witnesses also testified against Mr. Pickton, including Lynn Ellingsen, who told jurors she walked into the pig slaughterhouse beside his trailer one night and saw him butchering a woman hanging above a table.
Another witness, Andrew Bellwood, testified that Mr. Pickton once confided in him about how he would handcuff, murder and then butcher women.
But the defence attacked the credibility of many of the Crown's major civilian witnesses, some of whom said different things to different investigators at different times.
Court heard many of those civilian witnesses were, or still are, drug addicts with criminal records.
Ms. Wishart said the defence will certainly attack some of the Crown witnesses' credibility and the Crown will have to deal with that.
“If (the Crown) had issues with credibility with their witnesses you talk to the jury about that and acknowledge that that may be a weakness,” said Ms. Wishart. “But then you point out what about that witness, if anything, they ought to believe.”
And if the “other side had witnesses that were weak or had credibility issues that's definitely something you would address in your closing.”
The Pickton jury has to reach a verdict on six separate first-degree murder counts, including Mona Wilson, Sereena Abotsway, Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin, Andrea Joesbury and Brenda Wolfe.
A superior court judge who did not want his name used outlined the main task for Justice James Williams.
“The job of the judge is to refer the jury to evidence that has been heard that touches upon the real issues in the case,” said the judge.
“I assume there is a real issue here as to whether Pickton can be identified as the person who caused the death of any one or more of the six people,” he said.
“If the Crown can't prove that beyond a reasonable doubt, then it's not guilty.”
The judge, who was once a defence lawyer, said the first question the jury should ask itself is did Mr. Pickton cause the death of the deceased?
“And if the jury is not satisfied that he did then it's a not guilty verdict.
“If they say yes, we're satisfied that he caused the death then the direction would be, did he do it unlawfully? Is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it unlawfully? The next question is did he have the intention?”
The defence must deliver its closing argument first because it elected to call witnesses. Had it decided not to call witnesses, it would have had the benefit of addressing the jury last.
The credibility of many of its witnesses also came under attack by the Crown.
The defence called witnesses to try to show jurors that Mr. Pickton is developmentally challenged and that statements he made to police were the result of his lack of sophistication.
They called experts to try to show he has limited education and a low IQ.
An IQ expert said Mr. Pickton had a general IQ of 86, which is in the low-average range but well above the level of mental retardation, which is below 70.
The defence also called witnesses to try to show the jury that the Pickton farm was accessible to many, many people.
And throughout their cross-examination of Crown witnesses, the defence repeatedly brought up the names of others — Mr. Pickton's brother Dave, Ellingsen, Mr. Pickton's friend and sometimes partner in the pig butchering business Pat Casanova,
Dinah Taylor was the person most often mentioned by the defence. She was an acquaintance of Mr. Pickton's who was often on the farm.
One witness, Gina Houston, a close friend of Mr. Pickton, testified Ms. Taylor once threatened to kill Ms. Joesbury. Ms. Houston also told the jury that Mr. Pickton once told her that Ms. Taylor “was responsible” for some of the murders.
One defence expert called to testify about blood spatter linked to one of the women Mr. Pickton is charged with killing admitted he wasn't an expert in blood, but mostly in materials not from humans.
Mr. Pickton did not testify and his legal team never addressed the presence of the remains during its case.
They told the jury early in the trial that the remains were found on the farm but they said Mr. Pickton did not kill the women.
Defence lawyer Michael Mulligan, who has addressed many juries, knows both sides will be listening intently to the other's final argument.
“One thing I try to do is to listen carefully to the Crown's closing submission, as you do for their opening submission,” he said.
“If the Crown said something during their opening that they haven't proven, I will make a point of that in closing.”
And when both sides have finished, the jury will be excused briefly to give defence and Crown an opportunity to address the judge before he begins his final instructions.
“If either side makes a factual error in their submissions to the jury, you can ask the judge to point that out in his charge, correct it.”
Both sides want to avoid that because “that can be very unhelpful in terms of your general credibility.”
Neither the Crown nor the defence will try to summarize the evidence of all their witnesses — there simply isn't enough time.
“It (a final argument) is an exercise in persuasion,” said Mr. Mulligan. “It's not an exercise in reviewing all the evidence or being an encyclopedia of everything that happened.”