Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Pickton: The Vancouver Missing Women

Wrap-up on the Pig Man: Guilty

by Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.

It surprised some that the jury deliberated so long to return their verdict for Robert Pickton, the fifty-eight-year-old hog farmer who has been in court since his trial began last January. There was a lot of evidence to get through in this longest trial in Canadian history, and the issues apparently weren't always clear-cut. More than 40,000 photos were taken of the crime scene, 235,000 items were seized, and there were some 600,000 exhibits from the lab. Ninety-eight witnesses for the prosecution and thirty for the defense, both lay and expert, gave testimony, and there were half a million pages of documents, including background on all six victims: Mona Wilson, Brenda Wolfe, Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, and Marnie Frey. In addition, Pickton's taped interrogation spanned over twenty hours.

Robert Pickton
Robert Pickton

In September, the Justice James Williams threw out several days' worth of evidence and instructed jurors to disregard evidence regarding a skull found on the 16-acre hog farm. Unidentified, the remains were referred to only as "Jane Doe," and no explanation was offered as to why the evidence was withdrawn, except that the presence of the skull could not be directly related to any of the charges.

Once the final arguments wrapped up and the judge had made his detailed instructions, the jury retired, working throughout the weekend as November became December, telling the families of the victims nothing. In fact, during the first three days, they did not even ask any questions, so no one knew whether they struggled over some evidence or a legal concept. At one point, the judge decided he had made an error and rephrased his instructions, over the defense attorneys' protest.

Finally, after more than nine days and into the second weekend, the jury reached a verdict: Pickton was found guilty on six counts of second-degree murder, but not guilty on six counts of first-degree murder. Many in the courtroom were stunned and disappointed. While Pickton will receive a life sentence, he could be eligible for parole in ten years. The jury left this decision in the hands of the judge. The verdict meant that the jury either did not believe that Pickton had planned the murders or that he had acted on his own, although they clearly did believe that he was involved. The problem for the jurors considering the first degree conviction was the absence of an obvious smoking gun.


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