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Week 27: Witness hedges on timing of last look in freezer

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — Drew Hawley leaned forward, his elbow on his left knee, as if he were about to share a confidence. A defence witness at Robert Pickton's first-degree murder trial, Mr. Hawley was in the witness box during the 27th week of the trial to respond to questions from prosecutor Mike Petrie. He appeared ready to tell the jury exactly what he knew.

But as the questioning progressed, Mr. Hawley acknowledged he did not remember as much as he at first appeared to know about a significant piece of evidence.

Mr. Hawley had been asked about a freezer at the back of a workshop garage on Mr. Pickton's property. In 2002, police found the bisected head, hands and feet of Andrea Joesbury and Sereena Abotsway in buckets in the freezer.

Responding to questions from the defence, Mr. Hawley told the court he looked into the freezer two or three months before Mr. Pickton was arrested in February, 2002, and did not see any buckets with partial remains.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Hawley's memory was not as precise. Mr. Petrie asked if the last time he looked into the freezer could have been six months before the arrest. That timing would place the sighting in August, 2001. The court has heard that Ms. Joesbury was last seen in June, 2001, and Ms. Abotsway was last seen in July, 2001. “Could have been,” Mr. Hawley replied.

The Crown prosecutor pressed him further. Could it have been eight months, Mr. Petrie asked. “Maybe,” Mr. Hawley said.

A year, Mr. Petrie asked, placing the sighting well before the two women disappeared.

“Maybe,” Mr. Hawley said, adding that he did not have any reason for going into the freezer. He did not really know when he last looked in, he said.

However, he told the court again that he did not see the buckets with human remains when he last opened the freezer. Peering at photos of the freezer taken by police, Mr. Hawley also said he was not familiar with the type of bucket in which the remains were found and had not seen the buckets outside the freezer.

Mr. Hawley, the 16th defence witness, was a friend of D.J., the son of Mr. Pickton's brother, Dave Pickton. Mr. Hawley started working for Robert Pickton as a mechanic in 1999 and now works full time for Dave Pickton.

Court also heard from Sandra Humeny, who has seen a lot of Robert Pickton over the past 35 years. She was in a common-law relationship with his brother Dave and lived at the family farmhouse for five years in the 1970s. She worked for Dave after they broke up in the late 1980s and continuously since 1996.

She often saw Robert Pickton on the farm, court heard. She could not think of even one instance of Mr. Pickton going out with friends on a social activity.

Testifying as a defence witness during the 27th week of the trial, Ms. Humeny said the only incident that stood out in her mind was a May Day event, when Mr. Pickton got the horses to go into a parade.

“But a movie, dining out, a walk on the beach - there never was no time for that,” Ms. Humeny told the jury.

Speaking confidently and without hesitation in response to questioning by defence lawyer Adrian Brooks, Ms. Humeny, 51, portrayed Mr. Pickton as a hard worker who did not have much responsibility in the family businesses and took direction from Dave, his younger brother. She told the court she saw Robert Pickton struggle to understand everyday conversation. His vocabulary was “very minimal,” Ms. Humeny said. When speaking with Mr. Pickton, the conversation had to be plain and clear. “None of the words could be too elaborate,” she said.

She would occasionally see that he was not following a conversation and she would help him so he would have a better grasp, Ms. Humeny said.

“Many times I actually saw – he gets a look on his face – that he did not understand the conversation, even with co-workers,” Ms. Humeny said. “He would not understand what they were saying. Either he would go back onto a different topic about work, or he perhaps could walk away.”

Earlier, she told the jury she had formed a relationship with Dave Pickton at the age of 16. She moved into the Pickton family home a year later. Dave's parents, Robert and some farm workers also lived in the house at the time.

While living with the Picktons, she worked with Robert, she said. Their jobs included cleaning the barn, feeding animals, shipping animals to a slaughterhouse and delivering animals to the auction. They worked until their jobs were done, often from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mr. Pickton was on the farm “all the time” in those years, she said.

Ms. Humeny had two children before separating from Dave Pickton in 1978, she told the court. Nine years later, she started working for her former partner. She drove a gravel truck for a business run by Dave Pickton from 1986 to 1990. She was at the Pickton farm at least five days a week during those years, at the start of her work day and at the end. She saw Robert Pickton on the farm on the majority of days, she said.

Ms. Humeny also said Robert Pickton told her he was trying to help drug-addicted women who were staying on his farm get off drugs.

During cross-examination by prosecutor Mike Petrie, Ms. Humeny said she knew that some women who stayed with Mr. Pickton in a trailer on the farm had serious drug habits.

“[Mr. Pickton] brought it up to me, that some of them had a problem with drugs and he was trying to help them get off,” Ms. Humeny said.

Ms. Humeny told the jury she was not aware that Mr. Pickton associated with prostitutes until after he was arrested for murder in February of 2002.

She did not know that Mr. Pickton made trips to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside or that he occasionally had drug-addicted prostitutes from the skid-row neighbourhood come back to his trailer.

Ms. Humeny told the court that she had heard about some women staying in Mr. Pickton's trailer. Although she identified some of the women, she did not mention any that Mr. Pickton is accused of murdering.

Ms. Humeny said she spoke to Robert Pickton often, even after he was arrested. She was biased in favour of Mr. Pickton, she said. But she denied she ever gave Mr. Pickton advice.

Yes, she was critical of police, she agreed. “I was not happy. They locked the place down,” she said, referring to police seizing the Pickton farm during its investigation.

But she rejected a suggestion by Mr. Petrie that she felt police were doing something wrong. “We were just surprised, that's all,” she said.

“You said, ‘Who is policing the police?''' Mr. Petrie said.

“I could have,” Ms. Humeny replied.

Mr. Petrie asked whether she thought police were setting up Mr. Pickton. “I do not know. I just find this very unreal, that this is happening,” Ms. Humeny told the jury.

Mr. Petrie also pressed Ms. Humeny on her assessment of Mr. Pickton's intelligence. In response to questioning by defence lawyer Adrian Brooks, Ms. Humeny had said Mr. Pickton had a limited vocabulary and often had difficulty understanding conversations. She said Mr. Pickton had the handwriting of a Grade 1 or 2 pupil “very clean, tidy ...”

However, she confirmed that Mr. Pickton ran an auto-salvage and a pig business by himself. He had signing authority for his brother's demolition business.

Mr. Petrie suggested Mr. Pickton was able to conduct himself in business on a regular basis without difficulty. Ms. Humeny said his involvement was “very limited, small scale.”

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