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Pickton guilty on 6 counts of second-degree murder

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Word there would be a verdict came just before 11 o'clock, and only moments after about 20 victim family members and friends had held a moving, native smudging ceremony to pray for "a good verdict."

The dead women, Sereena Abotsway, 29; Mona Wilson, 26; Andrea Joesbury, 22; Brenda Wolfe, 30; Georgina Papin, 34, and Marnie Frey, 23, were drug addicts and sex-trade workers who had been lured to Mr. Pickton's pig farm about 30 kilmetres away by offers of drugs and money.

They had last been seen over a four-year time span, from August of 1997 to the same month in 2001.

The verdict meant that the jury did not believe Mr. Pickton deliberately, and on his own, planned to kill the women, but was involved in the killings, perhaps with someone else.

Elaine Allan, who knew several of the six victims, said that it was incredibly difficult to hear "six times over" the not guilty verdict on Mr. Pickton's first degree murder charges.

Ms. Allan, who was in the courtroom for the verdict, said family members were breaking down in angst. "It was hard for all of us to hear that."

However, she said, the accused's conviction on six counts of second degree murder was certainly a consolation. "I'm relieved a very dangerous man will no longer be out on the streets," she said.

For those related directly to the six women, the verdict marked the end of an agonizing, emotional roller coaster ride that began in February 2002 when Mr. Pickton was arrested and charged with the first two of what eventually became 26 counts of murder.

Weeping, former sex trade worker Tricia Battie who observed much of the trial said that at least mr. Pickton will likely spend the rest of bis life in jail.

She said the verdict will bring some closure to the families and the victims themselves.

"They weren't just former junkies from the downtown eastside. They were women, and they've waited nearly five years for this."

The dramatic courtroom decision was also a bittersweet victory for the Crown in a case that proved difficult to prosecute, despite the discovery of butchered remains of the missing women on Mr. Pickton's suburban property in Port Coquitlam.

The difficulty was underscored by the near-record length of time the jury took to come to its unanimous verdict, despite a general public perception that Mr. Pickton's guilt was obvious, given the many body parts found scattered about his property.

But the Crown's case included dubious witnesses, a wealth of uncertain DNA evidence and the lack of a so-called "smoking gun" directly linking Mr. Pickton to the killings.

However, one witness testified that she came upon the 58-year-old pig farmer in the farm slaughterhouse while he was in the process of butchering one of the women. He was covered in blood, she said.

And Mr. Pickton appeared to admit to the murders several times — without making a clear confession — during a lengthy, police interrogation and jail cell conversations with an undercover agent he thought was a hardened criminal.

More than once, the accused said he was "so close" to killing an even 50 women, but got sloppy and was caught.

Once he complained to police: "You're making me out to be more of a mass murderer than I am."

The trial that concluded today was one of the longest, costliest and most complex in the annals of Canada's justice system. The sensational, gory details of the missing women saga attracted media attention around the world. Many in the courtroom, including jurors, were overcome at times during the lengthy proceedings.

The jury had to deal with a mass of complicated evidence and testimony from 128 witnesses, much of it contradictory. Members also had to contend with 20 hours of vital video tapes of Mr. Pickton's encounters with police.

The verdict came several days after Judge James William modified his instructions to the jury. The judge explained that he had made an error when he first outlined what it would take to convict Mr. Pickton of murder in the deaths of three of the victims, Ms. Abotsway, Ms. Joesbury and Ms. Wilson.

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