NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. The judge at Robert Pickton's first-degree murder trial instructed the jury yesterday that they do not have to decide whether Mr. Pickton acted alone in order to find him guilty.
"You can find Mr. Pickton acted in concert with other persons although you may not know who they are," Mr. Justice James Williams of B.C. Supreme Court told jurors during his instructions on the law.
"It is sufficient you are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt, having considered all the evidence, that he actively participated in killing the victim," Judge Williams said. "It would not be sufficient if [Mr. Pickton] merely was present and took a minor role."
Earlier during the sensational multiple-murder trial, Mr. Pickton's defence lawyers suggested to the jury that some evidence pointed to others. The Crown, however, contended that Mr. Pickton acted alone.
Mr. Pickton is on trial for the murder of six drug-addicted women from Vancouver's skid row. The 58-year-old bachelor was arrested on Feb. 22, 2002, after growing concern in Vancouver over the disappearance of prostitutes from the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
Judge Williams has indicated he expects his instructions to the jury and review of the evidence will take three days.
During a review of the principles of the law, Judge Williams advised the jury that the evidence does not have to answer every question in the case. "That's not what should be reasonably expected," he said.
The judge told the jury members they do not have to accept everything a witness told the court. They may accept all, part or none of a witness's testimony.
Several witnesses, including prosecution witnesses Scott Chubb, Lynn Ellingsen and Andrew Bellwood, had criminal records. The judge said their records should be considered only to assess the credibility of their testimony.
But he also said a conviction, even of a crime involving dishonesty such as theft or fraud, does not mean jurors should not believe a witness. The criminal record is only one factor. It is entirely up to them to decide how important their criminal record is, he said.
Previous statements made by witnesses to police or during the pretrial hearings can also be used to assess credibility of the witnesses, Judge Williams said.
However, if the statements were inconsistent with their testimony, then jurors should look to the nature of the inconsistency and how the witnesses explained the inconsistency.
The judge also cautioned them on hearsay statements, where a witness repeats what another person says. Two key witnesses repeated conversations with Mr. Pickton in which he allegedly made incriminating statements.
It's up to jurors to decide whether they believe the witnesses, he said. Then they have to decide whether statements made by Mr. Pickton were true.
The jurors are free to accept all, none or part of his statements, the judge also said, adding it is up to them to decide what weight they give each statement.
Judge Williams also had advice for jurors about the numerous statements from experts they heard during testimony about DNA and the search of the Pickton farm. "Don't become overwhelmed by the aura of scientific infallibility. Use your common sense," he said.
Earlier, he told jurors they should follow his instructions on the law carefully. If he is wrong about the law, justice can still be done through an appeal, he said.
However, they should make up their own minds about the evidence. "It's your memory of the evidence, not mine that you must rely on. All I'm trying to do is help you remember who you heard from and what they had to say," he said.
The judge had copies of his address distributed to the jurors and they followed along as he read it out. However, the jury members are not to be allowed to have the written material on the evidence during their deliberations. Judge Williams said he was concerned that jurors may take his remarks as the last word in evidence.
He urged them to use their common sense, reason and life experiences to put their own interpretation on the evidence. "You are not bound by my opinions," he told the jurors.
Judge Williams urged the jury to not be swayed by the shocking and upsetting nature of the six charges against Mr. Pickton or by the additional murder charges that Mr. Pickton faces. Mr. Pickton has also been charged with murders of 20 additional women. A date has not yet been set for a second trial.
"Mr. Pickton starts with a clean slate and is presumed to be innocent ... unless the evidence raised in court convinces you," the judge said.
He emphasized the jury must find Mr. Pickton guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Probably or likely guilty is not sufficient. "You have to give the benefit of the doubt to [Mr. Pickton]," he said, adding that it is virtually impossible to prove anything to an absolute certainty.
Judge Williams also thanked the jurors for their patience and understanding for serving on a jury in the high-profile trial. "You're engaged in one of the most important duties any Canadian can perform," he said.