Charlotte Lajimodiere talks to the media Tuesday about her sister-in-law, Rachel Quinney, one of the women Thomas Svekla is accused of killing. ((CBC))

The trial of a man accused of killing two Edmonton prostitutes opened Tuesday with the Crown calling on the court to look beyond the fact that the victims were sex trade workers.

"The theory of the Crown is that Thomas Svekla murdered both Rachel Quinney and Theresa Innes. Both were sex trade workers but that should not define their lives," Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson said in his opening statement before Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sterling Sanderman.

The theme was repeated outside the courtroom by Quinney's sister-in-law, Charlotte Lajimodiere, who along with other family members and friends of the two murdered women crowded into the courtroom and held each other for support.

"None of these women grew up saying they wanted to be a prostitute," said Lajimodiere. "[There are] a lot of social issues that lead these women to the streets as a means of survival. That's all it was for my sister-in-law."

As the case got underway, Svekla, 39, a former mechanic dressed in black jeans, white shoes and a grey polo top, stood in the prisoner's box and said "not guilty" four times — twice to charges of second-degree murder and twice to charges of offering an indignity to a body.

Case circumstantial

Finlayson admitted the case is circumstantial, with no confession and no eyewitnesses. But the court will hear testimony from more than 120 witnesses that should prove Svekla's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the Crown said.

The remains of Innes, 36, were found in May 2006, stuffed in a hockey bag discovered in a home in Fort Saskatchewan, just northeast of Edmonton.

According to court documents released after Svekla's preliminary hearing, he told RCMP he did not kill Innes, but was transporting her body from High Level, in northern Alberta, to Edmonton to give her a decent burial.

The body of Quinney, 19, was found in a wooded area east of Sherwood Park, an Edmonton suburb, in June 2004. Svekla has said he stumbled upon the body, then reported it to police.

Evidence in the trial is expected to include graphic descriptions of the alleged crimes. At the trial Tuesday afternoon, the Crown showed a police videotape of the scene, including Quinney's naked, mutilated body, causing members of her family to sob loudly.

The trial is expected to take about three months, and is being heard by a judge alone.