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Week 23: Jurors told they'll be home for Christmas

Globe and Mail Update

New Westminster, B.C. — The prosecution of Robert Pickton in the killing of six drug-addicted prostitutes from Vancouver's skid row will be concluded during the week of Aug. 7, the trial judge told the jury on the 23rd week of the proceedings.

In an unusual “state-of-the-nation address,” Mr. Justice James Williams of the B.C. Supreme Court indicated the prosecution has only a few witnesses left who have yet to be called to testify.

Injecting levity into the grisly trial, Judge Williams said the trial was moving more quickly than anticipated. He had told the jury at the start of the trial on Jan. 22 that the court case could take a year or more.

“This trial is not going to last a year. It brings to mind the Bing Crosby song,” Judge Williams said, referring to the holiday classic I'll Be Home for Christmas. “You'll be home well before Christmas. That's my expectation,” he said as the jurors broke into broad smiles.

Judge Williams did not suggest any date. “That probably is a way to put a curse or a hex on this whole project,” he said.

He added that Gina Houston, who testified in May, would return for further testimony. And a “fairly significant witness” would also be in the witness box, the judge said without identifying the individual.

He told jurors the court would adjourn for a two-week break after the witness finished testifying, returning for the completion of the prosecution case on Aug. 7.

Mr. Pickton's defence team had not yet told the court what it intended to do once the prosecution case was completed.

Mr. Pickton is on trial for first-degree murder in the deaths of six women who worked as prostitutes and were addicted to drugs. He also faces charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of 20 more women. A date has not yet been set for his second trial.

Also this week, the trial heard testimony from its 96th witness, Corporal Jennifer Hyland of the Ridge Meadows RCMP. She told the court she stopped Mr. Pickton on March 20, 1999, for a sobriety test.

The date of the sobriety test has been important in the trial in order to link together a sequence of events. The jury has heard that Lynn Ellingsen was with Mr. Pickton when he was stopped for the sobriety test.

Ms. Ellingsen told police and testified at a pretrial hearing that the sobriety test was on the same night she and Mr. Pickton picked up a prostitute and brought her back to the farm. Ms. Ellingsen said she later saw a woman's body hanging in Mr. Pickton's barn like a pig, and Mr. Pickton, covered in blood, appeared to be butchering the woman.

Ms. Ellingsen identified the woman as Georgina Papin, one of the women he is accused of killing. The court has heard Ms. Papin was seen alive on March 21, 1999. The court has also heard that documents indicated Ms. Ellingsen was on the farm after March 20, although she testified she left after the incident and returned only once to pick up her clothing.

During the trial, Ms. Ellingsen said she had been driving with Mr. Pickton on more than one occasion, suggesting the sobriety test may not have been on the same night that they picked up a prostitute.

Also this week, Judge Williams told the jury that threatening to kill someone is sometimes nothing more than an expression of anger.

In one of his occasional mid-trial instructions to the jury, he said they were not permitted to take the literal meaning of some words they heard in court.

Gina Houston, a close friend of Mr. Pickton, had testified that Dinah Taylor said she wanted to “kill that bitch.” She told the court that she believed Ms. Taylor was referring to Andrea Joesbury, one of the women that Mr. Pickton is accused of murdering.

Judge Williams reminded the jury that the prosecution has raised questions about whether Ms. Taylor was referring to Ms. Joesbury when talking about “that bitch.” It was up to the jury to decide about whom Ms. Taylor was talking, he said.

But the jury was not entitled to use the words to mean that Ms. Taylor intended to kill the woman, Judge Williams said. They could infer only that Ms. Taylor was angry with her, he said.

The judge's instruction came after he allowed the unusual step of having Ms. Houston testify on what she heard Ms. Taylor say. Ms. Taylor has not testified during the trial.

Generally, hearsay evidence is not allowed in court, Judge Williams said. However, he decided the jury could hear remarks along with instructions on what use jurors could make of the comments.

Mr. Pickton's defence team repeatedly turned the spotlight on Ms. Taylor.

Ms. Taylor had been arrested in February of 2002, two weeks before Mr. Pickton. She was released without being charged. Pat Casanova, a business associate of Mr. Pickton, told the court that Ms. Taylor brought Ms. Joesbury to the farm to have sex with Mr. Casanova. The jury also heard testimony of three prostitutes who said Ms. Taylor introduced them to Mr. Pickton.

In earlier testimony, Ms. Houston recounted comments by Mr. Pickton during a conversation in 2002, shortly before he was arrested. Mr. Pickton told her the police would find as many as six bodies on his pig farm and that Ms. Taylor was responsible “for three or four,” Ms. Houston said.

On Thursday, Ms. Houston recalled remarks she said Ms. Taylor made during several telephone conversations on a Friday in June of 2001. The court has previously heard that Ms. Joesbury was reported missing on June 8, 2001.

“She [Ms. Taylor] kept telling me she was going to kill that bitch,” Ms. Houston said in response to questioning by defence lawyer Marilyn Sandford.

Ms. Taylor was angry with Ms. Joesbury after Mr. Pickton gave Ms. Joesbury more money than he gave to Ms. Taylor, Ms. Houston told the jury. Ms. Taylor was phoning her to ask for a ride out to Mr. Pickton's farm, she said. Ms. Taylor wanted Ms. Houston to take her and Ms. Joesbury along, Ms. Houston said, adding that she did not give them a ride to the farm.

This week the jury also heard that two prostitutes addicted to narcotics came out to the Pickton farm and had sex with Mr. Pickton. The evidence was submitted to court by agreement of the prosecution and defence teams without testimony from the women.

Mr. Pickton picked up a prostitute named Wendy Eistetter on March 22, 1997. He took her to his trailer on the farm. He paid her $100 and they had consensual sexual intercourse, the jury was told.

Mr. Pickton brought Maria Isidoro to the farm in the fall of 1999. He paid her $150 for fellatio, the jury was told. Ms. Isidoro subsequently phoned Mr. Pickton to see if he wanted another date. Mr. Pickton said he was too busy working. She asked for money. He came to East Vancouver and gave her $40. They had no further dealings, the jury was told.

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