Canadian court upholds murder convictions of farmer accused of feeding his victims to pigs

Friday, July 30, 2010

Top court rejects Canadian serial killer’s appeal

TORONTO — Canada’s top court upheld Friday six murder convictions of a pig farmer accused of butchering women and feeding them to pigs in what police have referred to as the country’s worst serial killer case.

Canada’s Supreme Court was unanimous in ruling Robert Pickton’s right to a fair trial was not affected by the trial judge’s final instructions to the jury, although they split 6-3 on the reasons.

At the end of an 11-month trial, Pickton, 60, was convicted of murdering six prostitutes in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison with no parole for at least 25 years for six counts of second-degree murder.

The Vancouver, British Columbia, pig farmer appealed his conviction, saying the judge gave improper instructions to the jury when they asked, on their sixth day of deliberations, whether they could find Pickton guilty if they inferred he did not act alone.

The trial judge said if they found Pickton “was otherwise an active participant” in the killings, they could find him guilty.

Pickton’s defense argued the judge gave the jury an avenue to convict their client without giving them a chance to defend him properly as the prosecution’s case rested on Pickton being the only one responsible for the crimes.

Justice Louise Charron said in her written decision Friday on behalf of the justices that the judge’s instructions were proper.

“There is nothing wrong, particularly in complex or lengthy trials, with the trial judge and counsel’s narrowing the issues for the jury by focusing on what is actually and realistically at issue in the case, provided that, at the end of the day, the jury is given the necessary instructions to arrive at a just and proper verdict,” Charron wrote.

The decision Friday comes more than 10 years after a series of stories in a Vancouver newspaper began to link the disappearances of women from the city’s darkest corners. Pickton was arrested in February 2002 by police investigating the disappearances.

Pickton is also charged in another 20 deaths that haven’t gone to trial. Those 20 charges were severed from the original trial because the judge said they included materially different evidence from the other six counts. If the Supreme Court had granted Pickton a new trial, the prosecution said they would try him for the 20 remaining charges.

Pickton and his brother used to throw parties at the hog farm in a barn they dubbed “Piggy’s Palace.” Investigators have said they were drunken parties with prostitutes and plenty of drugs.

Pickton’s younger brother, David Pickton, was under investigation as a prime suspect in the murders, but no evidence ever emerged to link him to any of the crimes and he wasn’t charged. David Pickton still lives close to the farm.

Pickton’s suburban farm became the biggest crime scene in Canadian history.

Hundreds of investigators, including anthropologists, spent months combing through soil and buildings at the farm where they found human remains.

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