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Families gather for vigil after verdict

THE CANADIAN PRESS

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — Greg Garley has the answer he's been waiting for for years — Robert Pickton killed his foster sister Mona Wilson.

“We knew it. We knew that he was guilty. And now the province knows it. Now the whole world knows it,” Mr. Garley told the The Canadian Press shortly after the jury returned six guilty verdicts for second-degree murder.

Mr. Garley said his whole family is ecstatic at the convictions.

He and other family members filed into court shaking Sunday after word that a verdict was coming down.

Some of them fled in tears minutes later at news Mr. Pickton was found guilty of killing Wilson and five others from Vancouver's gritty Downtown Eastside.

They gathered around a Christmas tree hung with 26 lace angels that had been erected sometime Friday night.

The angels represent the 20 women Mr. Pickton has been accused of killing and the six he has been found guilty of murdering — Georgina Papin, Marnie Frey, Brenda Wolfe, Sereena Abotsway and Andrea Joesbury.

As a crush of reporters and photographers filled the courtyard, family members gathered in a circle for a candle-light vigil, wiping tears from their eyes and embracing one another.

“I didn't know which way it was going to go,” Lynn Frey, Marnie's stepmother, said in a live television interview outside the courthouse.

“ I kind of felt like I was teeter-tottering.”

Frey said the verdict has given her what she always wanted — accountability and justice.

“I know in my heart what he's done and I know he'll never get out and that's what counted,” Ms. Frey told CBC Newsworld.

Several family members gathered to pray together shortly before the jury returned with its verdict.

Among them was Cynthia Cardinal, Georgina Papin's sister, who said Mr. Pickton still has a lot to answer for.

“He's destroyed a family and left seven children without a mother,” she told reporters after the verdict.

She said she will be in court Tuesday to give her victim impact statement.

“I think he deserves to hear all our pain,” Ms. Cardinal said. “Even if he doesn't feel anything, at least we've got our pain out and it's our way of beginning to heal. We've got to do this.”

She said she felt her sister's presence throughout the trial.

“I love her and I miss her,” she said, her voice breaking. “Now we can put her to rest.”

Elaine Allen worked at a women's centre in the downtown and knew many of the 26 women.

She said they were so long overlooked and forgotten by society, but now are “starting to have their day of justice.”

She read out a poem:

“She's just a junkie, people say

“She's nothing, nobody sees her.

“She's a missing, lost and forgotten girl.

“And today everybody sees her.

“She is found in an unmarked hole in the ground.”

The group then played a song written for the women by award-winning Victoria poet Susan Musgrave.

The only dark spot for many was that Mr. Pickton was not found guilty of first-degree murder.

Jurors convicted him on the lesser second-degree charges, and while the conviction still means he'll serve a life sentence, it opens the door for Mr. Pickton to be eligible for parole after 10 years.

Mr. Pickton's sentencing hearing will begin Tuesday.

Murray Watson, who was a friend of another woman Pickton is accused of killing, said the verdict was overwhelming.

Tensions were high at the courthouse as families and reporters waited through nearly 10 days of deliberations for a verdict.

The Crown's evidence was among the most grisly ever aired in a Canadian courtroom and families struggled as they listened to the evidence offered by the Crown.

Yet many family members and friends of the women endured the horrific testimony in order to be present at the trial.

The courtroom was full Sunday when the jury returned with its verdict.

The only empty seats in the courtroom were those reserved for Mr. Pickton's family. Those seats have remained vacant throughout the 10-month trial.

“At a moment like this your heart just goes out to the families,” said Kim Kerr, director of the Downtown Eastside Residents' Association.

He said he didn't know the women personally but he recognized them from the neighbourhood.

“I hope this brings some closure to the families of these six women, but....” Mr. Kerr said, trailing off.

He called the verdict “interesting,” adding that he expected guilty verdicts.

Mr. Pickton is scheduled to go on trial for the remaining 20 counts of murder on Jan. 17, 2008, but many are wondering whether the second trial will go ahead, given Sunday's surprising verdict.

Marilyn Kraft, whose stepdaughter Cindy Feliks Mr. Pickton is accused of killing, said she is confident Mr. Pickton will face trial for her stepdaughter's murder.

“I don't care how much it costs, justice is justice,” Ms. Kraft said in a live television interview outside the courthouse.

“I hope they go ahead with a second trial and we're all praying.”

Ms. Kraft said she will wait another 10 years, if that's what it takes.

“I'm strong enough to last another 10 years,” she said.

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