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Pickton guilty on six counts of second-degree murder

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — Serial killer Robert Pickton did not even blink.

Standing in the prisoner's box with two defence lawyers at his side, Mr. Pickton, 58, looked at the floor, showing no emotion as he was found guilty of second-degree murder of Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Mona Wilson, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Marnie Frey. The six drug-addicted prostitutes disappeared between August, 1997, and December, 2001, from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the most destitute neighbourhood in the country.

On the far side of the bullet-resistant transparent wall in the courtroom, members of the women's families shrieked as the jury foreman first said they found Mr. Pickton not guilty of a first-degree murder charge. They gasped and held their breath, bursting into tears after they heard the jury foreman say the jurors found Mr. Pickton guilty, instead, of second-degree murder.

In a case that attracted international attention, Mr. Pickton had been arrested for murders that rival the atrocities of child killer Clifford Olson and murderer Paul Bernardo.

Graphic evidence at the trial showed that Mr. Pickton lured the women with money and drugs to his isolated home, about 30 kilometres away from downtown, and then murdered them, butchering their remains as if they were farm animals and disposing of their bodies by feeding body parts to his pigs or taking them to a rendering plant.

Partial remains of the six women were found in what the prosecution described as Mr. Pickton's backyard.

Photographs of the human remains brought a juror, as well as many people in the public gallery, to tears.

The family and friends of women who vanished had pushed authorities for years to find the serial killer who they believed was taking women off the streets. Mr. Pickton was arrested in 2002, after more than a decade of vocal marches and protests from the community.

Outside the courthouse, the families expressed relief that Mr. Pickton had been convicted. "We were extremely lucky that [police] found what they did and we got a guilty verdict out of it," Rick Frey, the father of Marnie Frey said, referring to the tiny fragment of a jaw that was discovered on the Pickton property.

Greg Garley, whose foster sister Mona Wilson was a victim of Mr. Pickton, said: "We knew it. We knew that he was guilty. And now the province knows it. Now the whole world knows it."

Cynthia Cardinal, the elder sister of Georgina Papin, said she was grateful that Mr. Pickton had been convicted. "The prosecution did a great job. It keeps [Mr. Pickton] there and he will never get out."

But Ms. Cardinal, as well as many other family members, the defence team, the prosecution and the police, considered the convictions just the beginning.

"The hard part is over, but there is still a lot of work to do," Ms. Cardinal said, echoing many others yesterday who said they anticipated Mr. Pickton would be back in court to face first-degree murder charges for the death of 20 additional women.

"I'm halfway to being satisfied," Judith Trimble, mother of Cara Ellis, said with her voice shaking. "They have a moral obligation to continue with the next 20. I'm pleased he is spending the rest of his life in jail but those other girls also need their day in court too," she said.

She dismissed concerns about the cost of a second trial. "Life is precious and those girls' lives were precious," she said. "You cannot put a price tag on it."

Crown prosecutor Mike Petrie told reporters later that the focus will shift to the second trial on Jan. 17, when a date could be set. He felt it was "a very good outcome."

"We're relieved after five-plus years we made it to this point," he told reporters later. "We are grateful the jury seemed to accept that the evidence [pointed to Mr. Pickton's guilt.]"

Mr. Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, was coy when asked about Mr. Pickton's reaction to the verdict. He had the normal reaction of someone who was convicted of murder, Mr. Ritchie told reporters.

Mr. Ritchie dismissed questions about whether Mr. Pickton would appeal. He told reporters the verdict marked "an important milestone but we still have a journey to travel."

However, Adrian Brooks, another defence lawyer, indicated last week he believed the unusual initiative by Mr. Justice James Williams last week to change instructions to the jury in the middle of their deliberations would be grounds for a mistrial. The judge's comments were subject to a publication ban that was lifted once the verdict came out.

"It is not in any way appropriate to change the charge," Mr. Brooks said in court last week, adding that the change would prejudice Mr. Pickton's right to a fair trial. "The goal posts surely cannot vary. What is the jury going to think?"

The investigation and the trial was unlike anything that Canada has ever seen. The police record required two million pieces of paper that would stretch from Vancouver to the community of Revelstoke, if placed end to end. The police took 1,500 statements during the investigation.

About 700 people worked on the Joint RCMP-Vancouver Police Department Missing Women Task Force that arrested Mr. Pickton. Almost 300 people, including 130 search technicians, were involved in the search of the Pickton property. More than 600,000 samples from the Pickton property were taken for DNA analysis.

Police took DNA samples from more than 1,000 people to compare with DNA profiles found on the Pickton farm.

The prosecution case relied on 98 witnesses, including 40 police officers and 12 drug addicts. The defence called 28 witnesses. Mr. Pickton did not testify.

A conviction of second-degree murder means that the jury found Mr. Pickton committed murder but the murder was not planned and deliberate. A sentence of life in prison is mandatory for the murders. However, Mr. Pickton can apply for parole. At the request of Mr. Pickton's lawyer, Judge William will be asked Tuesday to consider when Mr. Pickton will be eligible for parole.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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