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Pickton guilty on 6 counts of second-degree murder

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER B.C. — Robert Pickton has been found guilty on six counts of second-degree murder related to the scores of missing women from Vancouver's impoverished Downtown Eastside.

On a rare wintry day here, a jury of seven men and five women returned the guilty verdict on all of the half dozen charges Mr. Pickton was facing, following marathon deliberations that began more than nine days ago.

But the surprise verdict found Mr. Pickton not guilty of first-degree murder on the six charges.

The verdict came shortly before noon local time.

As the related charge dealing with each of the victims was read out to a tense, silent courtroom, the jury foreman pronounced "guilty" six times in succession to charges of second-degree murder, but "not guilty" on charges of first-degree murder.

The verdicts mean Mr. Pickton will still face a life sentence, but he could be eligible for parole in 10 years rather than the automatic 25 years a first-degree conviction calls for.

He also faces a second trial on charges of murdering 20 other Downtown Eastside women. Conviction on those charges would make him Canada's most notorious serial killer.

Jurors had no recommendation on parole eligibility and court was adjourned until Tuesday when sentencing will be decided and victim impact statements will be read.

Georgina Papin's three sisters, Marnie Frey's father and stepmother and Mona Wilson's sister were in the courtroom to hear the verdict.

Mr. Pickton stood with his defence lawyers Peter Ritchie and Adrian Brooks at his sides. The court clerk read out each charge and asked for the jury's decision. Mr. Pickton looked ahead at the floor, never glancing at the jury.

The foreman's first response was to say not guilty to the charge of first degree murder of Sereena Abotsway. Ms. Papin's sisters shrieked loudly, then held their breath and listened. Others gasped and began to cry.

The clerk continued to ask for the jury's decision on each count.

As the jurors filed out of the courtroom to consider whether they had a recommendation on when Mr. Pickton should be eligible for parole, two jury members appeared to have wet eyes. One jury member glanced quickly at Mr. Pickton. Others headed out the side door In the vestibule, outside the courtroom, members of the Missing Women Task Force appeared stunned.

Lead prosecutor Mike Petrie told three court watchers that he felt happy and relieved. Another prosecutor said he was pleased the jury had returned a verdict of murder and the only question is when he will be eligible to ask for parole.

But relatives and friends of the victims and other missing women had very mixed emotions.

Nearly two dozen of them had been camping out for days at the courthouse here, as they waited nervously for a decision on Mr. Pickton's fate.

The first family members to emerge from the courthouse after the verdict appeared distraught that Mr. Pickton was not convicted of first-degree murder.

"It's not right," said one member as she hugged a supporter.

Some wept.

"It was pretty devastating when I heard them say not guilty of first-degree murder," said Marilyn Kraft, mother of one of the alleged victims in the second murder trial Mr. Pickton will face. She said she's just hoping the jury will recommend no parole for 25 years.

Several family members seemed completely overcome by the emotions of hearing the words not guilty applied to Mr. Pickton, despite his conviction of second-degree murder.

Peter Ritchie, Mr. Pickton's lead defence lawyer, said his client was taking the verdict predictably.

"You'd be guessing accurately if you said he was having a normal reaction for someone found guilty of second-degree murder."

But Mr. Ritchie was cautious in offering much opinion about the verdict or the case, noting his client still faces a further 20 murder charges involving other women from Vancouver's gritty Downtown Eastside.

And he was leery about drawing any conclusions about what went on in the jury room.

"I don't know what the jury thought except that the Crown didn't prove that these murders were planned and deliberate," he said.

Jury deliberations are secret in Canada and before dismissing them, Mr. Justice James Williams reminded jurors that they were never to discuss what went on among them.

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