NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. Robert Pickton was not smart enough to figure out how to avoid making statements to police that would make him seem guilty of crimes he did not commit, court heard during the 25th week of his first-degree murder trial.
In a brief opening before calling witnesses for the defence, lawyer Adrian Brooks urged members of the jury to consider his client's intelligence when assessing the response he gave to police after he was arrested on Feb. 22, 2002.
The jury has heard that Mr. Pickton made several incriminating statements during a 12-hour interrogation after his arrest and during a conversation later the same day with an undercover officer in his cell.
They will see school records that show he repeated Grade 2 before going to an occupational school. The defence also told court it intended to call a psychologist who will tell the court about Mr. Pickton's performance on an intelligence test, Mr. Brooks said.
Mr. Brooks appealed to jurors to put aside how they would react to events and consider how a person of limited intelligence such as Mr. Pickton would respond when police told him he was going spend the rest of his life in prison.
“Think about the choices that would go through Mr. Pickton's mind at that time,” Mr. Brooks said. Consider the context in which he made choices, he said.
Mr. Brooks also drew the jurors' attention to Mr. Pickton's reaction to the police raid of his farm on Feb. 5, 2002. The raid was part of one of the largest investigations in Canadian history, he said.
Consider what a guilty person would do and what Mr. Pickton did. “He went to work,” Mr. Brooks said.
The defence team began to respond to the prosecution case during the trial that began Jan. 22 and after the testimony of 98 witnesses.
Mr. Brooks also indicated that the defence team intended to call evidence in four areas: on Mr. Pickton's intelligence and his response to the police raid on his farm; on blood stains and DNA found on the farm that have been linked to Mona Wilson, one of the women Mr. Pickton was accused of murdering; on whether the farm was isolated or a beehive of activity; and on aspects of the testimony of key prosecution witnesses Lynn Ellingsen and Pat Casanova.
Mr. Brooks challenged the jury to remember their impressions when they first walked into the courtroom almost eight months earlier.
Did they look over at the prisoner's box when they first saw the layout of the courtroom and say to themselves, “Oh, that's where the innocent person sits,” he said, as Mr. Pickton turned away from the jury and peered at the far side of the court.
“You probably didn't,” Mr. Brooks said. “But ladies and gentleman, that is where the innocent person sits and he sits there, in that seat, unless you come to a conclusion that is different.”
The first defence witnesses were ambulance attendants and drivers who testified that they were called to the Pickton property on two occasions – March 29, 2002, and May 30, 2002 – to pick up Ms. Ellingsen.
The dates were significant. Ms. Ellingsen, a key prosecution witness, had told the court that she saw a woman hanging from a meat hook in the slaughterhouse on the farm and Mr. Pickton covered in blood. She testified that she ran away and never returned to the farm, except to pick up some clothing.
She later identified the woman as Georgina Papin from a photo lineup. She is one of the women that Mr. Pickton is accused of murdering.
Ms. Ellingsen told police the incident occurred on the day Mr. Pickton was stopped for a sobriety test, which police said occurred on March 20, 1999. But the court has heard that Ms. Papin was seen alive on March 21, 1999.
Ms. Ellingsen subsequently told the court that she did not have a good memory for dates, she had gone out with Mr. Pickton on more than one occasion and the sobriety test may have been on a different evening than the incident in the slaughterhouse.
Also during the 25th week of testimony before the jury, witness Ingrid Fehlauer said she had known Mr. Pickton since she was a youngster of five or six. She lived across the street from the Pickton farm in the mid-1990s and did housecleaning for Mr. Pickton on six or seven occasions. Her sister was the common-law wife of Mr. Pickton's brother, Dave.
Ms. Fehlauer told the court she was on the farm two or three times a week and again on weekends from 1992 to 1998. She said the farm was bustling with activity in those years. Later, she added that the farm at various times was a dark place with almost no one there.
Her description of Mr. Pickton was in sharp contrast with the image presented earlier in the week by Mr. Brooks, who said in an opening to the jury that Mr. Pickton is a person of limited intelligence.
In response to questioning by the prosecution, Ms. Fehlauer agreed that Mr. Pickton was a pretty smart guy with a good memory. Mr. Pickton actively participated at pig auctions, worked on construction of buildings and was a deft mechanic who could build a vehicle from the ground up, she said. He was a competent businessman, farmer and construction worker, she said.
Court also heard that the Pickton property was a beehive of activity from the early morning to 2 a.m., as many as 200 cars a day drove on and off, chain-locked gates were cut dozens of times and items were routinely stolen.
Bill Malone, 63, a friend of Mr. Pickton's brother Dave, said it was a battle to keep the property secure from thieves and intruders.
“There were so many people coming on the property we did not have control over what was happening,” said Mr. Malone, who lives near the Picktons' farm and court heard was a daily visitor.
Earlier in the day, in response to questions from Mr. Brooks, he told the jury that trucks associated with businesses run by the Pickton family were streaming through the property throughout the day.
As well, lots of people would come to see Robert Pickton, Mr. Malone said, and several people used the farm as their mailing address.
The trailer in which Mr. Pickton lived was never locked, Mr. Malone said. People would go into the trailer regularly, even when Mr. Pickton was not there.
Mr. Malone also spoke about a freezer on the farm where police found the partial remains of two women. Mr. Malone said meat from Mr. Pickton's pigs was stored in three freezers.
Mr. Malone said he took meat from one of the freezers, most recently in 2000. “Anyone could go into them,” he told court.