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Second Pickton trial unlikely, criminal lawyers say

From Monday's Globe and Mail

As the families of 26 murdered women collectively hold their breath, prominent criminal lawyers across the country say they do not see a second trial in Robert Pickton's future, no matter what the jury's verdict.

Mr. Pickton's fate is currently in the hands of seven men and five women as they deliberate whether the pig farmer is guilty of killing six women - Mona Wilson, Sereena Abotsway, Marnie Frey, Brenda Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury and Georgina Papin.

But Mr. Pickton still faces charges for the murder of 20 other women.

While a trial date for those charges cannot be set until the first trial concludes, Vancouver criminal lawyer Glen Orris said there is no logical reason for either side to press for another trial.

"I know that the amount of time and effort that has gone into these trials on both the Crown and defence sides has been extreme," Mr. Orris said. "If he's found not guilty, these are the best counts the Crown had, so it would be somewhat ludicrous, in my view, to do it over again with counts that are weaker than these.

"If he's found guilty on any of these counts, the sentence is life, so I don't see what the purpose would be in doing further trials. You don't get to have consecutive life sentences."

But Hersh Wolch, a criminal lawyer in Calgary, said that in the case of a conviction or an acquittal, there would be considerable pressure from victims' families to keep the momentum going.

"It may very well be that the families of the victims who have not gone through a trial will say, 'No, we want there to be convictions for our children.' "

And in the event of an acquittal, there would likely be pressure brought to the attorney-general to pursue the other counts, Mr. Orris said, "but it's a political decision at that point."

Lori-Ann Ellis, 46, sister-in-law of Cara Ellis, said she is nervous about the likelihood of a second trial.

"They haven't given us any information about it, so I'm apprehensive. But I certainly hope there is a trial. Every person should have their day in court."

Rick Frey, Ms. Frey's father, hopes there will be a second trial, despite how hard proceedings are for the families. "You know it's hard, but what can you do? How do you prepare for it? It still doesn't take much to set you off."

Outside of familial pressure, however, Calgary's Mr. Wolch said factors in favour of having a second trial are "bleak."

"Logically, there isn't that much to be said for a second trial but I can certainly see why on acquittal, the Crown would want a second crack at it because maybe if they made a mistake, it's easily correctible."

Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby cited the Paul Bernardo case as a classic example of what could happen.

"If there's a conviction on the major stuff, you wind up with a plea agreement on many elements of the second trial," he said.

In any case, if Mr. Pickton is convicted of more than one murder, "he's not getting parole in this country," Mr. Ruby said. "Forget it."

Other points to consider include whether or not there will be an appeal to this ruling. A second trial wouldn't begin until that appeal period is over. If there is an appeal, it could be years before a possible second trial could even begin. Mr. Pickton is 58 years old.

With a report from Rod Mickleburgh

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