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Police ignored parts of forensic evidence

It linked others to dead women, lawyer says in closing argument

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — Defence lawyer Adrian Brooks accused police yesterday of a "rush to judgment" by focusing all their investigative efforts on Robert Pickton and ignoring a wealth of circumstances pointing to the possible involvement of others in the grisly multiple-homicide case.

Mr. Brooks's accusation was part of a relentless attack on forensic evidence linking Mr. Pickton to the slaying and butchering of six prostitutes who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"The forensic association of the women to Mr. Pickton is weak, whereas to others it is strong," Mr. Brooks declared during the third day of his closing argument in the 10-month trial.

In particular, he pointed to Dinah Taylor, a close friend of Mr. Pickton and a regular overnight guest at his suburban pig farm; Pat Casanova, who butchered pigs on the farm; and Mr. Pickton's younger brother, Dave Pickton.

Police and the Crown described evidence associating them with several of the slain women as "no evidence," but evidence linking Mr. Pickton to the women as "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Mr. Brooks told the jury.

Time and again, he urged jurors not to pick and choose what DNA linkage there is to Mr. Pickton, but to consider how many of the collected samples didn't come from him.

"You have to take into account all of the evidence," he reminded them. "You have not been given the whole picture."

Mr. Brooks buttressed his forceful presentation with a plea to the jury to believe what he called Mr. Pickton's "clear, unequivocal denial" to a close friend that he killed any of the women. "It is the truth. You can rely on it."

The denial was made in a car conversation with Gina Houston just two days before his arrest for murder, the lawyer said.

It took place several months after Ms. Houston, according to her court testimony, heard a woman screaming and a fight going on while she was talking to Mr. Pickton over the phone.

As the two sat in his car, Mr. Pickton told Ms. Houston that the screaming woman had been Mona Wilson, one of the six women he is charged with killing, Mr. Brooks related.

"He said he tried to do everything he could for her, but she didn't make it," the lawyer continued.

Responding to Ms. Houston's questions, Mr. Pickton denied killing Ms. Wilson. He denied killing anyone. "There you have evidence of Willie Pickton's denial, a clear unequivocal denial backed up by a specific event," Mr. Brooks said.

Ms. Houston also told the court that Mr. Pickton mentioned Ms. Taylor as responsible for "three or four" of the murders.

In his assault on the Crown's DNA evidence, Mr. Brooks focused much of his attention on Ms. Taylor.

He recalled that several items of makeup found in an orange garbage bag at Mr. Pickton's trailer home contained DNA traces from both Ms. Taylor and murder victim Brenda Wolfe.

"Why does Dinah Taylor have Brenda Wolfe's lipstick?"

Makeup with DNA from another slain woman, Andrea Joesbury, was also found in the bag, Mr. Brooks said.

The findings made it clear that Ms. Taylor had "taken over" the women's makeup, he said, and jurors should take that into account when assessing whether the Crown can prove that Mr. Pickton alone was responsible for the killings.

At least 83 items linked to Ms. Taylor were found in Mr. Pickton's bedroom, Mr. Brooks said, and a pink backpack containing items with her DNA on them also had "what everyone has in their backpack, a cleaver."

Even more crucially, he said, a rosary identified as belonging to Ms. Wilson was found with Ms. Taylor's DNA on it.

And her thumbprint was found on a roll of duct tape in Mr. Pickton's bedroom.

"If this had been Willie Pickton's thumbprint, we would be hearing about it again and again, but instead 'it is not compelling,' " Mr. Brooks said.

The lawyer said DNA evidence of Mr. Casanova's presence in the farm's slaughterhouse was much more prevalent than that of Mr. Pickton, including DNA evidence from both Mr. Casanova and Ms. Wilson discovered on a sample from the building's door.

"It is very, very important to understand this evidence," he advised the jury. "It is stronger than anything related to Mr. Pickton."

Meanwhile, DNA from an unidentified victim found in a farm freezer matched a sample taken from a massager discovered under the bed of Mr. Pickton's brother, Dave, Mr. Brooks said. Yet Dave Pickton was not even called as a witness, he pointed out.

"This is the kind of mindset I ask you to take into account ...," he told the jury. "The Crown approach was to focus only on Willie Pickton ... there was a rush to judgment."

Finally, Mr. Brooks said, the only DNA evidence found on the remains of any of the victims - on the teeth of two women - could not be linked to anyone.

To the seven men and five women in the jury, he described this finding as "absolutely critical to your understanding of the complexity of this case."

Mr. Brooks said he hoped to conclude his presentation today.

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