NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. Serial killer Robert Pickton was sentenced late Tuesday to life imprisonment, with no right to parole for 25 years.
The punishment handed down by Judge James Williams was the maximum possible for Mr. Pickton, who was convicted by a jury Sunday of multiple second-degree murder charges over the gruesome fate of six women from the impoverished, drug-ravaged Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
“Nothing I say can adequately express the revulsion the community feels at these killings,” Judge Williams told the defendant, who stood before him with hands clasped.
The judge said the murders were clearly serial killings, noting that they took place over a four year period (1997-2001).
“Mr. Pickton's actions were murderous and repeatedly so.... That puts this case, quite frankly, in a category of its own.”
As Judge Williams pronounced the maximum sentence on each of the six charges, screams of triumph and loud cheers erupted from the gallery packed with friends and families of the victims.
Afterwards, as the families filed out of the courtroom, their exhausting ordeal finally over, they crowded around the Crown's team of lawyers, embracing them and crying. Moments later, they strode jubilantly out of the courthouse wearing white T-shirts proclaiming Mr. Pickton's guilt on each of the six murder charges.
Earlier, the judge had asked Mr. Pickton whether he had anything to say.
As the 58-year old bachelor pig farmer moved to stand up, however, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie intervened.
Mr. Ritchie said his client wanted to address the court, but he had accepted legal advice to remain silent, given the 20 additional murder charges he is facing in a second trial, also connected to the missing women.
As a result, Mr. Pickton's motive for killing Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey remains a mystery.
As the families filed out of the courtroom, their exhausting ordeal finally over, they crowded around the Crown's team of lawyers, crying and hugging them.
The victims were all prostitutes struggling with drug addiction, lured to Mr. Pickton's farm 30 km. west of the city with offers of drugs and money. There, they were killed, butchered, and their remains disposed of on site or by sending them to a rendering plant.
His trial was one of the longest, most complex and sensational in Canadian history, filled with terrible details of the dark, murderous events that took place on Mr. Pickton's notorious farm in a rural slice of Port Coquitlam.
The judge's stern pronouncement followed a morning of almost unbearable emotion, as numerous heartfelt statements from family members of the missing women were read to the court.
Listening to personal details of the victim's lives and the ongoing devastation and bitterness felt by those left behind to mourn, the packed gallery echoed to sobs and moans of grief.
Normally stolid prosecutor Mike Petrie was among many overcome by emotion, stopping several times to fight back tears, as he read out the majority of the statements.
The statements were a reminder to all that Mr. Pickton's victims were more than the drug-addicts and prostitutes they were often labelled by the public. They were also mothers and daughters and friends, and they were loved by those who knew them.
“She was a beautiful little girl who loved to dress up,” Laila Cummer said of her grand-daughter, Andrea Joesbury, who disappeared in June of 2001.
“The last phone call from her was that she was going to a party. She was getting dressed up in her best clothes because she had never been to a party. I heard someone telling her she looked pretty,” Ms. Cummer's statement said.
“That was the last we heard from her…. She was so kind and so nice…. She is forever loved.”
The statement by Elaine Belanger, mother of victim Brenda Wolfe, was particularly poignant.
“There is a pain in my heart that will not heal. The tears that I shed would fill an ocean,” she said.
Ms. Belanger said she often has dreams that are so real, that Brenda is still alive. Then, she wakes to the empty realization in her stomach that her daughter is gone.
“If the teardrops I shed made a pathway to heaven, I would walk all the way and bring you home, hold you in my arms again, and never let you go.”
Five family members gave their statements personally, through tears and choked emotions.
Brittney Frey, the 15-year old daughter of victim Marnie Frey, addressed Mr. Pickton directly. Her mother disappeared 10 years ago.
The teen-ager's brief statement was read out by her stepmother, Lynn Frey, because, as the court was told, she felt she was “too emotional” to do it herself.
“I'm here for my real mother. I don't have much to say, but yeah, Mr. Pickton! Why did you hurt my mother and those other women? Why did you do that? What did they do to you?” she demanded of the killer. “When you took her from me, it was like ripping out my heart.”
In the defendant's box, Mr. Pickton's bland face remained impassive, as it did throughout the parade of distraught and agonizing feelings displayed by family members.
Then, addressing her missing mother, Brittney said: Marnie, if you were here, I would have so many questions to ask you. Marnie, I miss you.”
Bonnie Fowler, younger sister of victim Georgina Papin, also spoke directly to the court.
Weeping heavily, Ms. Fowler recalled, as a youngster in a broken family, the warm, friendly voice of Georgina on the phone for the first time. “It was the best feeling ever.”
Now, she feels guilty over Ms. Papin's horrendous death. “I can't handle it. I wish I could have done so much more. I always thought of her as being tough, someone who could always take care of herself.”
Ms. Fowler said it “really hurts” to hear her sister constantly described as a drug-addict and a prostitute. “I didn't know Georgina that way.”
Sister Elana Papin told the court that Georgina was “a loving mother, our sister and my mother's child. There's a rage inside of me over never really knowing what happened to her. All we had was bone fragments.”
She, too, addressed the emotionless Mr. Pickton. “I will never forget the damage you've done to our family with your evil ways.”
Many said they were haunted by the grisly nature of how the victims died, likened by one to something out of a horror movie. Others talked of dark imaginings of the final moments in their loved one's lives.
“Every day I try to only think of the fun-loving Sereena that I knew, but then the unthinkable reality takes over,” said Jay Draayers, foster brother of victim Sereena Abbotsway.
“I have closure as far as knowing she is no longer here, but I will never, ever have closure as to how she met her death. It will haunt and effect me for the rest of my life.”
Lisa Big John, older sister of victim Mona Wilson, said she now lives in a dead world. “A part of me is still out there searching for her….I hear her scream, screaming for her life.”
She has been sober for the past seven years, she said. “Each day of sobriety is my promise to her [Ms. Wilson].”
The crown argued that “justice demands that Mr. Pickton not be eligible for parole for the maximum 25 years.
These were heinous crimes, argued prosecutor Geoff Baragar. “He preyed on the most vulnerable people in our society, and when he had the chance, he assaulted and killed them in horrific fashion.”
But Mr. Ritchie pointedly reminded the judge that the jury had acquitted Mr. Pickton of first degree murder, finding that there was not the planning and deliberation necessary for conviction of the more serious murder charge.
In light of the jury's finding, he said the actual role played by Mr. Pickton in the killings remains unknown. “Did he act alone, in concert or indirectly? The evidence is not clear.”
Mr. Ritchie said Mr. Pickton was a hard-working person with no criminal record, no history of violence and a considerable history of kindness towards others.
The likelihood of Mr. Pickton ever receiving parole was extremely remote, he added, but it should be left to the parole board to decide, not the judge.
A date for Mr. Pickton's second trial on the 20 additional murder charges he faces will be set Jan. 24.
However, many, including Attorney-General Wally Oppal, question whether that trial will actually go ahead for Mr. Pickton now that he is almost certain to spend the rest of his life behind bars and given the expense and difficulty of proving the first set of charges against him.
Conviction on all charges would make Mr. Pickton Canada's most deadly serial killer.