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Week 22: Key witness admits lying to police

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — Lynn Ellingsen, the key witness at Robert Pickton's first-degree murder trial, remained in the witness box. During three days of startling testimony and gruelling cross-examination in the 22nd week, Ms. Ellingsen admitted that she had not always told the truth to police but never wavered in her insistence that the core of her account of a woman hanging like a pig in Mr. Pickton's barn.

During her fourth day on the stand Ms. Ellingsen told the jury that she had on occasion lied to police and at times was untruthful when she testified under oath during a pretrial hearing. At other times, she shrugged and said she had no explanation as to why some of her evidence at the trial was completely different from her earlier statements.

But she knew what she saw in the barn, Ms. Ellingsen said.

Pressed for answers by defence lawyer Richard Brooks, Ms. Ellingsen stared off into space. She told the court she was trying to visualize the horrific incident. “I can bring back exactly what I seen,” she said at one point.

She vigorously denied a suggestion by Mr. Brooks that she was making up evidence at the trial.

“Why would I make something up like this?” she said, when confronted with part of her testimony that was inconsistent with several statements she made to police and with her previous testimony.

Ms. Ellingsen made 16 statements to police and testified for three days at a pretrial hearing before beginning to testify in the trial on June 25. Mr. Brooks questioned her on shifts in evidence on more than 20 different aspects of the incident, including the date the event occurred, whether she saw women's clothing in Mr. Pickton's bedroom that night and the lighting in the barn when she says she saw a body hanging from a hook.

She gave contradictory statements on whether she ran away without entering the barn after seeing the body, whether she looked at the body and whether she saw the head of the person hanging in the barn. She offered new evidence never mentioned before on events occurring after she saw the body and how she left the barn.

Ms. Ellingsen told police on March 5, 2002, that she realized the body was a woman by the nail polish on her toes, which hung at Ms. Ellingsen's eye level.

She did not mention the nail polish to police in previous statements.

She testified at the pretrial hearing on April 7, 2003, that the nail polish was red. That was the first time she mentioned a colour, Mr. Brooks told the court.

“It's possible,” Ms. Ellingsen said. “I was scared. I never came out and said everything all at once.”

Ms. Ellingsen was asked again about the colour of the polish at the pretrial hearing on April 9, 2003, and she said she was not sure. She was asked a third time during cross-examination in July, 2003, and once again she said she was not certain.

But last week (Week 21) in court, Ms. Ellingsen testified she saw red nail polish on the toes of the body.

When she was pressed to explain the inconsistencies from her previous testimony, Ms. Ellingsen said to the court, “Obviously I did not take the time to stop and think. I rushed my answers.”

Ms. Ellingsen, the 95th witness at the trial that began Jan. 22, is the first person to testify seeing Mr. Pickton with a body.

Mr. Pickton is on trial for the deaths of six women, and he will face 20 additional murder charges at a second trial.

Ms. Ellingsen told the court last week she was with Mr. Pickton when he picked up a woman in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood and brought her back to his farm in Port Coquitlam.

Later that same evening, she said, she walked into the barn and saw a woman hoisted on a chain.

She said Mr. Pickton took her over to the body and told her she would end up hanging next to the woman if she ever revealed what she saw.

Ms. Ellingsen, a long-time drug addict, said in court the incident occurred in 1999, when she was living in a room in Mr. Pickton's trailer, but she could not recall the exact date.

On seven previous occasions, she linked the incident to the day on which she and Mr. Pickton were stopped for a sobriety test while on the way to pick up the sex-trade worker. That was March 20, 1999.

But during her fifth day in court, she refused to nail down a date, insisting she did not remember.

“I did not want to face the fact that this was really happening to me,” Ms. Ellingsen said.

On the sixth day, the jury heard that Ms. Ellingson told police two years ago that the woman she saw hanging from a hook in the pig farmer's barn was Georgina Papin, one of the women that Mr. Pickton is accused of killing.

The jury also heard that police promised her immunity from prosecution just before she gave her first version of the story on Feb. 24, 2002; that her account changed repeatedly over the years; and that she mentioned some details about the incident for the first time during testimony at the trial.

Ms. Ellingsen has said she went with Mr. Pickton to pick up a prostitute from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside some time in 1999.

On their way downtown, they were pulled over for a sobriety test. Mr. Brooks said the jury would hear that police say the date was March 20, 1999.

Ms. Ellingsen said they picked up a prostitute, bought some crack cocaine and headed back to the farm.

Later that evening, she testified, she walked into the barn next to Mr. Pickton's trailer and saw a woman hanging from a hook in the ceiling.

Mr. Pickton, covered in blood, told her she would end up hanging next to the woman if she revealed what she had seen, Ms. Ellingsen said.

Police showed her photos of 69 missing women on Jan. 26, 2005, Mr. Brooks told the court Wednesday.

Ms. Ellingsen identified No. 17 as the prostitute who got into Mr. Pickton's vehicle that night. Mr. Brooks told the jury that No. 17 was Ms. Papin.

Mr. Brooks asked Ms. Ellingsen if she was aware that prosecution and defence lawyers have agreed that Ms. Papin was seen on March 21, 1999, the day after Mr. Pickton and Ms. Ellingsen were stopped for the sobriety test.

Ms. Ellingsen had previously said the sobriety test occurred on the day she and Mr. Pickton picked up the prostitute.

However, she said she could have been with Mr. Pickton more than once.

With her credibility on the line, Ms. Ellingsen turned to the trial judge and made an unusual appeal to address the jury directly.

“May I have an opportunity to explain to the jury,” Ms. Ellingsen said.

Mr. Justice James Williams of the B.C. Supreme Court said she was limited to answering questions that were asked. “We have a policy of discouraging open-air speeches,” Judge Williams said.

Mr. Brooks did not ask her to elaborate on her identification of Ms. Papin.

Mr. Brooks told the court later that Ms. Ellingsen was first interviewed about Mr. Pickton on Aug. 10, 1999.

Police interviewed her for a second time two weeks later.

At that time, only three of the six women that Mr. Pickton is accused of murdering had been reported missing. Ms. Ellingsen at that time did not tell police about seeing a woman hanging in the barn. “I was afraid for my life,” she said.

Two weeks before giving a statement to police in 2002, Ms. Ellingsen was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder but was released without being charged, Mr. Brooks said.

She dismissed the suggestion that she was offered immunity in exchange for being a witness.

The immunity agreement was intended to ensure she would not be charged with welfare fraud, she said.

Ms. Ellingsen also said she spoke to police in 2002 on the advice of her parents, who urged her to be a responsible citizen “and do what I was taught as a child, to do what was right.”

Ms. Ellingsen completed seven days of testimony, insisting she knew what she saw “and that's the truth.”

Responding to questions from Mr. Brooks, Ms. Ellingsen told the court she was drunk and had smoked a significant amount of crack cocaine on the night in 1999 when she saw a woman hanging on a hook in Mr. Pickton's barn.

But she rejected Mr. Brooks's suggestion that she was either in a state of cocaine psychosis or hallucinating, and had mistaken a farm animal hanging in the barn for a woman.

“No, I know the difference,” Ms. Ellingsen said, fighting back tears. “I know what I seen and that's the truth. I did see this body, this woman's body.”

Ms. Ellingsen was under gruelling cross-examination for six days as Mr. Brooks tried to poke holes in her credibility. She was nervous and wiping tears from her eyes during much of her testimony. At times, she was combative, directly challenging Mr. Brooks to back up suggestions he was making.

Mr. Pickton often looked at Ms. Ellingsen while she was testifying. He did not show any concern for what she was saying. The jury appeared to be paying close attention, their heads turning as they listened to the exchanges between the lawyer and witness as if they were watching volleys at a tennis match.

During her testimony, Ms. Ellingsen acknowledged she provided several different versions of events on the day she said she saw a woman hanging in Mr. Pickton's barn. She lied on numerous occasions while recounting details to police; she failed to give a complete account of events when testifying at pretrial hearings, she said. However, Ms. Ellingsen never wavered about having seen a body hanging in Mr. Pickton's barn.

The timing of the incident has been contentious. Ms. Ellingsen told the court last week that she lived in a room in Mr. Pickton's house trailer for some months in 1999. She ran away after she saw a woman hanging in the barn and did not return, except once to pick up some belongings, she said.

Ms. Ellingsen testified that she could not specify when she saw the woman in the barn because, as a long-time addict, she could not recall dates and times.

In several statements to police and during testimony at a pretrial hearing, Ms. Ellingsen tied the timing of the so-called barn incident to a sobriety test given to Mr. Pickton on March 21, 1999. She said police stopped their car on the evening they went downtown, picked up a prostitute and brought her back to Mr. Pickton's farm.

However, Ms. Ellingsen offered a different version of events at the trial, saying the sobriety test may not have been on the same night as the barn incident.

Yesterday, Mr. Brooks suggested Ms. Ellingsen changed her account of the date of the barn incident after meeting with a Crown prosecutor two weeks before she stepped into the witness box. The prosecutor showed her documents that indicated she was living at Mr. Pickton's trailer after March 20, 1999, Mr. Brooks said.

“Now you had a problem, and you went away and decided how to deal with that,” Mr. Brooks said. He suggested she changed her account to fit the evidence.

“It's unfair to say that. I never gave a date [of the barn incident],” she said, adding that she was with Mr. Pickton on more than one occasion. “This is true. This is not made up,” Ms. Ellingsen said.

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