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In the public gallery, verdict brings confusion, mixed emotions

From Monday's Globe and Mail

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — They were settling into their tenth day of waiting for a verdict in the Robert Pickton murder trial. Family and friends of the victims were on the plaza outside the B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, joining in a native healing ceremony praying for a favourable outcome.

Suddenly word that the jury had a verdict spread through the crowd like an electric current. The families had a little more than 30 minutes to pass through two security gates and find their seats in the courtroom's public gallery.

The three sisters of Georgina Papin - Cynthia Cardinal, Bonnie Fowler and Elana Papin - had been at the trial since mid-November. They ran down the hall and were the first through security. They sat together in the vestibule outside the courtroom, holding hands and taking deep breaths to calm themselves.

Marnie Frey's father, Rick, and stepmother, Lynn, came in moments later. Many of the family members did not have enough time to find their place in the public gallery.

Anxious members of the Joint RCMP-Vancouver Police Department missing-women's task force moved into the back row of the public gallery after the prosecution and defence team had gone in. The media had the front row.

On the far side of the transparent bullet-resistant wall, Mr. Pickton was brought into the courtroom, clean shaven and wearing a new sweater. He has come to court for a year during the trial wearing a shirt and carrying the same grey sweatshirt. Otherwise he looked as he looked on every day of his trial, neither sad nor angry nor upset. His greasy hair was slicked tight, falling inside his collar.

His defence lawyers quickly moved to stand at his side as he stood to hear the verdict. The court clerk read out each charge and asked for the jury's decision. When the foreman said not guilty for first-degree murder, the foreman was asked for the jury's decision on a charge of second-degree murder.

In the public gallery, the process was confusing.

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. Others gasped and began to cry. Then the foreman said guilty to second-degree murder. The Papin sisters held their breath and leaned forward.

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

The jurors were turned to watch the foreman deliver what had taken them so long to decide, after sitting through 105 days of evidence, every day in the same chair. They were not required - or permitted - to offer any explanation for their decisions. On the contrary, they would be breaking the law if did they tell anyone what went on during their deliberations.

Five defence lawyers and six Crown prosecutors listened without reacting. Mr. Pickton was looking straight ahead, not at the jury foreman, as his fate was being announced.

After giving their verdict of guilty on six counts of second-degree murder, the jury had to consider when Mr. Pickton would be eligible for parole. The jury was asked to return to their room and consider whether they had a recommendation for the judge to consider.

Two jury members appeared to have wet eyes. One jury member glanced quickly at Mr. Pickton. Others headed out the side door without looking at Mr. Pickton or the public gallery. They returned and advised the judge that they did not have a recommendation, leaving the issue to the judge to decide after hearing from the prosecution and defence lawyers.

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.

Many wept.

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