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Week 26: Defence witnesses describe with fondness their time on farm

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — Samantha Howes and her sister Alison Gailling spoke with some fondness about their times on the Pickton family farm between the late 1970s and the early 1990s.

Ms. Howes, 42, remembered Robert Pickton letting her friend's three- and five-year-old children play with the pigs and help a pig give birth.

Called as witnesses for the defence during the 26th week of Mr. Pickton's first-degree murder trial, Ms. Howes and her sister described the property that the prosecution says was a grisly crime scene as a benign place bustling with activity associated with businesses run from the site.

Ms. Gailling, 35, was 6 when she began spending time on the farm. “It was a lot of fun there,” she told the jury. “A lot of space, a lot of fresh air and mud - a kid's dream.” Mr. Pickton would take her to play with the piglets, she said.

Ms. Howes, who has two young children, currently operates a licensed daycare out of her home. She first came to the Pickton farm in 1979, when her older sister started living with Robert Pickton's brother, Dave. Ms. Howes was 14 at that time.

She was at the property daily for two years and often slept over. “I rode a lot of horses, met a lot of people, had a great time,” she told the court.

Ms. Howes was 16 when she stopped going to the property. But she became friends with Dave's new girlfriend Kathy three years later and came by the farm often during the following nine years. She testified on her impression of Mr. Pickton's competence. If Robert needed something, Dave would give him money to buy what he needed, she said.

But during cross-examination, Ms. Howes testified that Mr. Pickton appeared proficient at his work. He had no problem operating bulldozers or dump trucks. He knew what to buy at the animal auctions and dealt with the paperwork, she said.

Ms. Gailling, a high-school teacher, told the jury her older sister looked after her on the Pickton farm three days a week and on weekends in the late 1970s. She was occasionally on the farm throughout the 1980s and spent considerably more time on the property during 1991 while she had a boyfriend who worked for Dave.

She recalled lots of activity on the property. She occasionally talked with Robert. Sometimes he was searching for words; other times he would speak quickly and repetitively. Sometimes he would repeat back what was said to him, Ms. Gailling said.

But in cross-examination, she said he was always able to communicate with her. She also said her observation was that Dave took care of Robert, controlled the money and told Robert what to do.

Tanya Carr was also called as a defence witness during the trial's 26th week. At one point during her testimony, her voice quivered slightly as she hesitated and then said she lived with Robert Pickton in a motor home on the family farm from the spring of 1994 to the fall of 1995.

But she quickly regained her composure as she recounted where the trailer was located on the property, how the property was lit at night and where they each slept in the motor home.

Ms. Carr, who was called as a defence witness, said she knew Mr. Pickton all her life. Their relationship was comparable to an uncle and niece, she said. Mr. Pickton, 57, is 23 years older than Ms. Carr.

The motor home had two beds, Ms. Carr said. She slept on the right; Mr. Pickton slept on the left, she said after being shown a floor plan of the motor home.

Mr. Pickton was “always fairly open” in discussions about his personal life with her, Ms. Carr said later in response to questioning by prosecutor Mike Petrie.

Mr. Petrie pressed her on whether Mr. Pickton talked to her about his sexual habits. “That's something I never asked him,” she said.

Mr. Petrie asked if she talked to him about his bad habits.

“If I did not see it, I would not confront him,” Ms. Carr said. She would have confronted him if she saw he had dealings with prostitutes, she said.

Mr. Pickton, in the prisoner's dock, looked at a notepad on his lap during most of her testimony and not at her. Ms. Carr glanced at him when she first entered the courtroom but she left without looking his way.

Ms. Carr told the court her first memory of the farm was when she was three years old. The barn at the north end of the property was filled with her family's pigs, she said. Her father raised pigs that were slaughtered there.

She was around 16 years old when she first watched pigs being slaughtered by Mr. Pickton and her father. After her father died in 1992, she saw Mr. Pickton slaughter pigs with Pat Casanova, a previous witness at the trial.

Ms. Carr was at the farm every day after school and on weekends in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She kept a horse there, she said. She could go anywhere on the farm. None of the buildings were ever locked, she said.

Ms. Carr said she never socialized with Mr. Pickton off the farm. “I believe his social time was going to auctions and stuff like that,” she said.

But on another day in the witness box, Ms. Carr showed frustration and told the lead prosecutor she was fed up with his detailed questions.

Prosecutor Mike Petrie was in his second day of cross-examination, grilling Ms. Carr on the amount of time she spent in the trailer and the number of times she and Mr. Pickton ate meals together there.

Mr. Petrie read statements she gave to police a number of years earlier in which she suggested she rarely ate in the trailer and that she and Mr. Pickton often dined at restaurants.

But she testified during the trial's 26th week that she and the accused had meals regularly together in the trailer. She also said the meals were “on occasion.”

Ms. Carr, who has answered many questions with “it varied” and “it depends,” seemed frustrated when Mr. Petrie suggested her answers to police were different from her testimony before the jury.

She said she was exhausted and had been “harassed” by the police.

“I'm getting fed up,” she said. “I told you. What more do you want from me? Maybe I didn't complete my sentences [to police investigators]. I want to be left alone.”

Mr. Petrie noted that she told police “not really” when asked about eating meals at Mr. Pickton's place and also said “never” on other occasions.

Yet when testifying this week, she insisted she ate there, specifically mentioning eating in the mornings and recalling Mr. Pickton cooking ham and eggs.

Ms. Carr also acknowledged that she was in Mr. Pickton's trailer about a week before he was arrested on illegal-gun charges in early February of 2002. He was subsequently released and then rearrested Feb. 22 and charged with two counts of murder.

But she said she never saw any women's clothes in the trailer, nor did she see a backpack with an inhaler, or women's products in the bathroom, which she said she had used.

Mr. Petrie suggested that women's clothing would have been visible to her.

“Not necessarily,” she said, adding there were many boxes and a lot of debris in the area.

Also during the 26th week, the jury was instructed to ignore a huge chunk of evidence it had already heard about the partial remains of an unidentified woman dubbed Jane Doe.

Mr. Justice James William told jury members they should disregard the evidence of several witnesses.

“You cannot use it in any way to decide if Mr. Pickton is guilty, or if you have reasonable doubt,” he said, after asking the jury to pay attention and listen to him closely without taking notes.

The judge's instructions to the jury came in the eighth month of the trial. The prosecution completed its case against Mr. Pickton last month, after calling 98 witnesses. The defence has called nine witnesses so far.

Mr. Pickton is on trial for murder in the deaths of six women - Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin, Mona Wilson and Marnie Frey. He is not charged with murdering Jane Doe.

However, the prosecution case included a considerable amount of evidence about Jane Doe, and drew attention to similarities between cut marks on her remains and the partial remains of some of the women that Mr. Pickton is accused of murdering.

Judge Williams appealed to jurors to “put the Jane Doe evidence entirely out of your mind. You must disregard what you heard about her. That evidence cannot form any part of your reasons. You must simply ignore it.”

Some people might say what he was asking the jury to do was “unusual,” Judge Williams said. He assured the jury he had sound reasons for what he was deciding. “[They] must not, for a moment, think this is the fault of the Crown or the fault of the defence,” he also told the jury.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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