Skip navigation

Week 29: Debate over Pickton's intelligence brings a smile to his face

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — Robert Pickton appeared amused, smiling to himself, as Crown prosecutor Mike Petrie and defence witness Gordon Cochrane sparred vigorously over how smart he was.

Mr. Pickton, 57, was taking a correspondence course in Grade 11 agriculture shortly before the trial began, the jury heard during the trial's 29th week. Mr. Pickton had previously completed a Grade 9 agriculture course, earning a grade of B with a mark of 78 per cent.

However, Mr. Cochrane had told the jury earlier this week that Mr. Pickton's grade-school record showed his achievement in school “plateaued” at a Grade 5 level.

Mr. Petrie suggested a B grade in a Grade 9 equivalent course indicated that Mr. Pickton did not remain at a Grade 5 level throughout his life.

Mr. Cochrane conceded that Mr. Pickton's achievement in the Grade 9 correspondence course “at first glance . . . looks quite impressive.” But Mr. Cochrane said he detected “a dramatic difference” in the quality of Mr. Pickton's writing on different sections of the tests. Portions copied out during an open-book section of the test were better written than responses by Mr. Pickton when he was asked to write on his own.

Mr. Petrie suggested a letter that Mr. Pickton sent to the correspondence school, withdrawing from the Grade 11 course, illustrated Mr. Pickton's ability to communicate. Mr. Cochrane said the letter substantiated his assessment.

In the letter dated September, 2006, Mr. Pickton notified the correspondence school, called the Fraser Valley Distance Education Society, that he was withdrawing from the course because he was in jail and did not have access to resources, such as a library and the Internet.

Mr. Pickton stated that he had completed some units with limited resources available to him. However, for instance, he could not complete a course called Bacon and Eggs, he wrote, indicating he had no access to any eggs whatsoever.

Mr. Pickton inquired if different agricultural courses were available. If not, that's okay, he stated. He would try to finish the course after his court case was over.

The letter had numerous spelling errors, run-on sentences, awkward sentence structure and grammatical errors.

However, the letter was comprehensible and more sophisticated than a Grade 5 piece of writing, Mr. Petrie said. Mr. Cochrane disagreed. “It would not pass a Grade 9 English class,” he said.

Mr. Petrie pressed on. “He's clearly writing to his teacher and tells them why he cannot complete the course, why he has to withdraw and asking if they have some other alternative,” he said.

“I feel I should let the jury decide whether that is acceptable writing for someone who has had 40 years experience in agriculture and taking a Grade 9 course,” Mr. Cochrane said.

Mr. Petrie said no one would have difficulty understanding what Mr. Pickton says. “He is able to communicate his point, albeit his English may not be the best,” Mr. Petrie said. “Fine, I agree,” Mr. Cochrane finally said.

But in re-examination by defence lawyer Patrick McGowan, Mr. Cochrane told the jury the material from the agricultural course did not lead him to change his opinion about Mr. Pickton's level of achievement.

Mr. Pickton is on trial in connection with the killing of six women. Defence lawyers have told the jury to consider Mr. Pickton's level of intelligence when reviewing allegedly incriminating remarks Mr. Pickton made after he was arrested.

Also during the trial's 29th week the jury heard from Mr. Justice James Williams, who was clearly disturbed.

After more than eight months of testimony from 124 witnesses, allegations surfaced that a juror might have broken the rules and talked about the case, contrary to the judge's instructions at the beginning of the trial.

In a sombre tone, Judge Williams spoke to the jurors about the allegations. He told its 12 members that he conducted “the necessary inquiry” into the allegations.

“I'm satisfied we can continue as we are, that is, with this jury of 12 persons,” he told the seven men and five women. “That's the end of the matter.”

The judge, who is responsible for protecting the integrity of the trial process, also issued a stern reminder to the jurors to stick to the rule book.

“A lot of what being a juror entails is not entirely consistent with how we live our lives,” Judge Williams said. “There are rules that have to be followed, and I'm counting on all of you to follow those rules. In that way, we can be confident that this case is tried fairly.”

As he reviewed the rules, some jurors nodded in agreement. Members of the jury, including the one who was the subject of the allegation, cannot be identified in the media under provisions of the Criminal Code. Mr. Pickton appeared to listen intently to the judge's words.

Quoting from his opening instructions to the jury in January, Judge Williams said jurors could discuss the case among themselves in the jury room as the trial proceeded. But they should not reach any conclusions until they have heard all the evidence.

“There is a danger in forming an opinion when you know only part of the evidence. You may well be mistaken in the preliminary opinion you reach, without listening to all evidence that bears on the matter, and later on, you may find it difficult to change your mind if you have already indicated your view on the matter to your fellow jurors,” he said.

Judge Williams also warned jurors to be wary of family, friends and colleagues who ask them about jury duty or the case. He instructed them to refuse to give out information about the case, or to ask for comments or advice from outsiders.

“The key to this trial working properly is impartiality,” he said. “Impartiality means you keep your minds open, listen to the evidence and consider everything that should be considered.

“At that point, you make your decision.”

Later, the jury heard testimony from the 28th defence witness, Gordon Cochrane, an expert in assessment and achievement testing. Reading from Mr. Pickton's elementary-school records, Mr. Cochrane told the jury that Mr. Pickton, who is now 57 years old, repeated Grade 2.

He was placed in a special-education class in September, 1959, at the age of 9. The records showed he continued to be registered in school until September, 1964. Mr. Cochrane said he did not know when Mr. Pickton's formal schooling ended.

Mr. Pickton took an achievement test in June, 1964, that showed he was performing as if he was in the third month of Grade 5. He was in his ninth year of schooling.

His reading score was equivalent to the fourth month of Grade 4; his mathematics score was equivalent to the fifth month of Grade 5, Mr. Cochrane said.

Mr. Pickton's scores on standardized tests were similar from 1962 to 1964, indicating he had “plateaued,” Mr. Cochrane said. His scholastic achievement was quite low in comparison with that of his peer group.

“He was falling further and further behind, and in the last three years, he seemed to be no longer progressing,” Mr. Cochrane said.

Defence lawyers have told the jury that they should consider Mr. Pickton's level of intelligence when reviewing statements he made to police after he was arrested.

Recommend this article? 21 votes

Back to top