VANCOUVER The trial of serial killer Robert Pickton on 20 outstanding murder charges should move ahead at the same time as an appeal of his conviction for murdering six women, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie says.
"Everyone forgets we have someone in custody here who has pled not guilty," Mr. Ritchie said yesterday in an interview.
Mr. Ritchie said he intends to ask the court to schedule the second trial as soon as possible, without waiting for a ruling on an appeal. The court is to consider setting a date for the second trial on Jan. 24.
He anticipates that a new judge will be assigned to the case who will not be bound by decisions made by the judge in the first trial. "The second trial proceeds as an independent second trial," Mr. Ritchie said, "and [Mr. Pickton] wants to get that trial going."
Attorney-General Wally Oppal has been reported as saying that a separate trial on 20 charges should await a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling on the first trial. The appeal court ruling could influence how a second trial proceeds, he said.
If authorities wait for the appeal court, Mr. Pickton - and victims' families - will not know for at least another year and possibly much longer whether a second trial will be held. Mr. Ritchie estimated that the appeal court will likely not consider the case until mid-2009.
In a sensational trial that attracted international attention, Mr. Pickton was convicted last month of second-degree murder in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin, Mona Wilson and Brenda Wolfe. Mr. Pickton, 58, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for at least 25 years.
The six women were addicted to drugs and worked as prostitutes in Vancouver's skid row neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside. The outstanding charges relate to the slayings of 20 women who were also drug addicts, prostitutes and from the Downtown Eastside.
Both the prosecution and defence asked the Court of Appeal this week to consider grounds for appeal of the outcome of the first trial.
The prosecution office filed an appeal of the decision to acquit Mr. Pickton of first-degree murder charges. To be convicted of first-degree murder, the jury would have to accept evidence that the murders were planned and deliberate. A second-degree murder conviction indicates the jury found that the evidence showed that Mr. Pickton intended to commit the murders but did not show that the murders were planned and deliberate.
In a document filed with the court, Gregory Fitch, director of criminal appeals in the criminal justice branch of the Attorney-General's office, said the trial judge made six errors in law, including splitting the list of slayings in two and proceeding on only six of the 26 charges.
The Crown asked that the acquittals on six charges of first-degree murder be set aside and a new trial be held on all 26 first-degree murder charges.
Defence lawyer Gil McKinnon, in a document filed yesterday in court, alleged that the trial judge erred in law and in matters of fact. Mr. Ritchie said the defence contends no mistakes were made in the acquittal on first-degree murder charges, but that errors led to the second-degree murder convictions.
The grounds for the defence appeal include the contention that the judge erred when advising the jury that Mr. Pickton could be convicted if jurors were satisfied he acted with others. The jury did not hear any evidence that would enable jurors to find that Mr. Pickton acted with others, the defence submission says.
The defence also says the judge erred in other aspects of his instructions to the jury, in allowing evidence to be heard about an unidentified woman dubbed Jane Doe that the judge later decided was inadmissible, and in permitting the jury to hear a videotape of Mr. Pickton's interrogation by police after his arrest.