Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Pickton: The Vancouver Missing Women

What the Jury Considered

by Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.

All the evidence, according to the Vancouver Sun, was discovered within 100 meters of the trailer where Pickton had lived and to which he had brought women. Prosecutor Mike Petrie went methodically through the significant items and testimony. Among the physical evidence were items with DNA from several dead women, buckets of body parts, a dildo with a revolver attached, DNA from unidentified people on several objects (including victims' teeth), and remains of two female bodies in a freezer. Five of the sixty-one items linked by DNA to missing women had a confirmed or possible link to Pickton as well. An eyewitness claimed to have seen Pickton with a saw in a room in which a woman's body was hung, and others associated him with several of the victims. Then there were the incriminating statements that Pickton made to the police during his lengthy interrogation, as well as the statements he allegedly made to an undercover plant in his cell that his goal had been 50 victims. Another witness said Pickton told him about strangling and gutting women and feeding the remains to the pigs.

DNA of some of these missing women was found on Pickton's property.
DNA of some of these missing women was found on Pickton's property.

"Let's have a reality check," Petrie had said. "This case is about the police finding the remains of six dead human beings essentially in the accused's back yard."

Defense attorney Adrian Brooks insisted the victims were not clearly linked to Pickton. He argued that the investigation had been clumsy, negligent and contaminated, and that Pickton's intelligence was too low for him to have masterminded such so many killings. Pickton, the defense maintained, had not confessed at all, but had merely parroted back information the police fed him, or had responded out of fear to the lies they had told. "He did not have the knowledge of the murderer," Brooks argued of Pickton.

If Pickton had claimed a goal of 50 victims, it had been merely to enhance his status in prison. He was an amiable, subservient guy who allowed questionable characters onto his property, which, coupled with the unidentified DNA samples and the poor credibility of the eyewitness who was a drug addict with a spotty memory, should constitute sufficient grounds for reasonable doubt. In addition, there was no smoking gun, the dismemberment method used had been unlike Pickton's method for hogs, and some of the evidence pointed to other potential suspects. Brooks named one of the witnesses against Pickton, Pat Cassanova, as a prime possibility.

The prosecution countered that Pickton's intelligence did not matter. He had experience as a butcher and was inured to death. He had an easy means at hand for disposal of remains. Common sense should dictate the verdict, not the "straw man" issue of an unknown bogeyman.

Then it was Justice Williams's turn to assist jurors in the fine points of law at stake, reading from a thick binder of notes. He cautioned them to disregard their awareness that Pickton faced a future trial for other murders. He then recounted the results of the extensive search on Pickton's property and the points on which experts had disagreed. Finally, he explained the concept of reasonable doubt, adding that they did not need to find that Pickton had acted alone in order to decide he was guilty. But to be guilty, he had to act, not just be present or in the vicinity. In order to deliver a verdict, they did not have to have all questions answered. "You have only to decide those matters that are essential for you to say whether the offenses charged have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Pickton sat motionless throughout the closing arguments and judge's summation, but when the verdict was read, he looked at the floor. He faces trial for another twenty counts of murder, and there are at least 14 women missing from Vancouver's East Side for whose disappearance Pickton is suspected.

The estimated cost of the investigation thus far is $100 million, and many legal experts believe that there won't be another trial, because it will be even more difficult to get a conviction, and the diminishing likelihood of conviction won't justify the additional expense.


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