Crown lays out grisly case against Pickton

B.C. pig farmer Robert William Pickton, charged with six counts of first-degree murder, admitted he had killed 49 women and wanted to make it an even 50, but he got sloppy, the Crown said Monday on the first day of the trial.

This story contains disturbing details

B.C. pig farmer Robert William Pickton, who ischarged withsix counts of first-degree murder, admitted he had killed 49 women and wanted to make it an even 50, but he got sloppy, the Crownsaid Monday on the firstday of the trial.

An artist's sketch shows accused serial killer Robert Pickton in the prisoner's box for the first day of his trial at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, B.C., on Monday. ((Felicity Don/Canadian Press))

In his opening remarks to the jury in a New Westminster court, prosecutor Derrill Prevett said Pickton allegedly told an RCMP officer: "'I should be on death row.'"

Pickton is chargedin connection with the disappearances of six women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The Crown intends to prove that Pickton took the women to his home in suburban Port Coquitlam, where he murdered them, butchered their remains and then disposed of them, Prevett told the B.C. Supreme Court jury.

Prevett also said that Pickton had the equipment and expertise to do so.

Pickton faces a total of 26 counts of first-degree murder, but only six charges will be dealt with in the trial that started Monday. He is to face the remaining 20 murder charges in a later trial.

In his opening comments, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie urged the jury to keep an open mind, and not come to quick conclusions about the case.

He said he is planning a strong defence, and will vigorously contest the Crown's contentions. He said that not only did his client not commit the murders, but did not participate in them either.

Pickton, 57, has pleaded not guilty to all charges, none of which have been proven in court.

Bodyparts found on Pickton farm: Crown

Prevett said that when policesearchedPickton'strailer in 2002, they found belongings of missing Sereena Abotsway, and that triggered a mass search of the farm that lasted nearly two years.

When investigators checked freezers on the property, they made a disturbing discovery, he said before Justice James Williams.

Robert Pickton is on trial accused of killing (clockwise from top left) Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin and Brenda Wolfe.

They found two five-gallon laundry buckets stacked inside each other. The buckets contained the skulls, hands and partial feet of two of the missing women,Abotsway and Andrea Joesbury.

Policelater discovered both heads had bullet wounds. As well, Joesbury's personal belongings were found on the Pickton property.

Prevett also told the jury that the skull, hands and feet of another missing woman, Mona Wilson, were discovered in a plastic garbage can.

He said14 human hand bones were also found at thefarm. One was identified as that of Georgina Papin, another of the six alleged victims. A tooth was also discovered, and identified as that of Marnie Frey, who had also gone missing.

All six —Abotsway, Joesbury, Wilson,Papin,Frey and Brenda Wolfe— were drug-addicted sex-trade workers who walked the streets of Canada's poorest neighbourhood.

They disappeared between 1997 and 2001.

Warns of shocking evidence

Before the Crown began its presentation, Williams warned the jury that some of the evidence would be shocking and upsetting.

"Where evidence is particularlydistressing, there is a concern that it may arise feelings of revulsionand hostility, and that can overwhelm the objective and impartial approach jurors are expected to bring to their task. You should be aware of that possibility and make sure it does not happen to you."

Williams also instructed the jury to ignore all news coverage, and rely only on the evidence.

The judge also ruled that family members of the women Pickton is accused of killing, who have been subpoenaed, willbe allowed into court to hear the opening arguments Monday, but that those who may be called to testify in this trial will not be allowed to attend until after they testify.

Just before the trial began, the brother of one of the victims said it would not be easy to sit through the hearings.

Ernie Crey said he would force himself toattend because he wants to know what happened to the missing women, including his sister Dawn, who disappeared in 2000. She isn't among the six at the centre of this trial.

Creysaid he knows at least one familywhose memberscannot bring themselves to enter the courtroom.

"It's affected that family so much that members of that family won't be at the trial," Crey told CBC News as he lined up outside the courtroom, waiting to be let inside.

"This [trial] will be difficult for all the families."

Whereabouts of others unknown

The 26women — the first of whom vanished in 1995— are among more than 60 listed as missing from the Downtown Eastside over a period stretching back to the late 1970s. What happened to the others is unknown.

Most were prostitutes and drug addicts, which limited the chances of a public outcry at their disappearances, as well as an early police response, even though some relatives and local activists had been pressing for action since the early 1990s.

A joint Vancouver police-RCMP investigation was not launched until April 2001. It wasn't until February 2002— after the investigation focused on the Pickton farm— that charges were laid in any of the cases. Pickton co-owned the farm with a brother and sister.

Justice Williams, who is presiding over the case, ruled last summer that the trial had to be split because trying all 26 charges at once would take too long and place an unreasonable burden on the jury.

The voir dire phase of the trial, in which the Crown and defence argue over which evidence is admissible, began Jan. 30, 2006. No jury was present and details of that phase cannot yet be published.

Careful reporting of trial

The jurors'task is unenviable as they now face months of testimony, based partly on an inch-by-inch search and excavation of the farm by police, forensic specialists and archeologists.

News organizations have been wrestling with questions of what to publish or broadcast, and how graphic the coverage should be. The CBC has decided, among other things, to offer warnings at the beginning of stories containing disturbing facts.

In court on Jan. 12, the judge made an unusual ruling designed to help the jury follow the twists and turns of the evidence.

The defence will be allowed to make a brief opening statement immediately after the Crown's opening, rather than waiting for prosecutors to wrap up their case. In its opening, the Crown outlines what it intends to prove.

One reason for the ruling is that "given the size and complexity of this case, it makes eminent sense that anything that can be done to assist the members of the jury by bringing some order to that complexity be encouraged," Williams said earlier this month.

In the ruling, he mentioned that the Crown intends to call 240 witnesses.

Relatives expected as witnesses

CBC News had learnedon Friday that among those summoned as Crown witnessesare relatives of the six women Pickton is alleged to have killed.

Some family members are angry that they have been called. Witnesses are normally barred from court until after they testify so as not to be influenced by what they might hear.

Rick and Lynn Frey, father and stepmother of Marnie Frey, who disappeared in 1997, were notified on Wednesday that they must testify.

Lynn Frey said she would go to court in hope of being allowed to sit in one of 55 seats reserved for family members.

"I want to know what happened to Marnie. I don't know if I can handle it, but I want to hear it," she said.