Not any more

Jurors never heard from sex-trade worker who was taken to farm

In Canada on August 4, 2010 at 20:28

VANCOUVER — The jurors at Robert (Willie) Pickton’s trial never heard the testimony of a sex-trade worker who alleged the accused took her to his Port Coquitlam farm for sex, slapped handcuffs on one wrist and stabbed her nearly to death.

"I was fighting him, I was, like, going backwards so I could get to this knife," the woman testified in 2003 at Pickton’s preliminary hearing. "I was begging him to let me go, telling him I had a family.

"And then I leaped at him, I slit his throat… I remember him grabbing a rag and going, ‘You f—ing bitch, you got me good,’ and he put the rag on his neck. And then he had a big long stick and I remember just picking up plants, everything I could get a hold of and throwing it at him."

During that violent struggle in March 1997, the woman said she slashed Pickton’s jugular vein and was able to escape, flagging down a passing car for help.

She had lost three litres of blood and had no pulse when she arrived at Royal Columbian Hospital with stab wounds to the upper chest, the abdomen, hands and arms. The woman, who was then 30, remained unconscious in hospital for four days.

Pickton, who also lost three litres of blood that evening, drove himself to Eagle Ridge Hospital, and was then transferred to Royal Columbian. The two stabbing victims were in separate operating rooms when a handcuff key was found in the pocket of Pickton’s pants. It was taken to the woman’s room and used to unlock the cuffs dangling from her wrist.

Pickton was charged with attempted murder, assault with a weapon and forcible confinement following the incident, but the charges were eventually stayed because the Crown considered the woman too unstable to testify in court at the time.

The stabbing that occurred 13 years ago predates the disappearance of all six women Pickton was convicted of murdering at his 2007 trial – and also predates the disappearance of 15 of the other 20 women he was accused of murdering.

However, the jurors were not allowed to hear the woman’s story because the judge, B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams, ruled in late September 2006 — just months before Pickton’s trial was to begin — that it was merely speculation that Pickton planned to murder and dismember her in the same fashion as the other women.

It was a huge victory for the defence, because the knife-fight survivor was the only Crown witness prepared to testify at Pickton’s trial that she had been brutally attacked by the accused, but lived to tell about it.

Another startling revelation in the woman’s story is that while Pickton was being treated in the same hospital that night, police seized his jacket, sweatshirt, T-shirt, jeans, underwear, socks and rubber boots. They were put in a storage locker and forgotten for several years until after his 2002 arrest in the missing women case.

When Pickton’s clothes were tested in the RCMP forensics lab in 2004, a gruesome discovery was made — the DNA from Andrea Borhaven was on Pickton’s rubber boots and DNA matching Cara Ellis was on his nylon jacket. Both women vanished from the Downtown Eastside in early 1997, just before the knife attack on the woman.

During the long search of Pickton’s pig farm, police found an earring bearing Borhaven’s DNA under the floor boards of his trailer; they also discovered several items linked to Ellis, such as her prayer card on a shelf in his slaughterhouse and her DNA on plastic sheet liners in a freezer. Pickton would later be charged with their murders, and they are among the 20 murder charges that have now been stayed.

However, the shocking revelation about the clothes was also kept a secret from the 12 jurors because it pertained to two of the 20 women who were not subject to the first trial.

During pretrial arguments, the Crown and defence agreed that Pickton and the woman stabbed each other severely on March 22, 1997, but they disagreed on who started the fight and why. And, therefore, also took opposite positions on whether the woman should be allowed to testify at Pickton’s trial.

Crown attorney Michael Petrie argued that the woman’s evidence was necessary because it helped prove who killed the six victims at the centre of the trial who, like the knife-attack survivor, were all drug-addicted sex-trade workers with a link to Pickton’s farm.

"The biggest significant difference" between the woman and the others, Petrie argued before the judge, is that she survived to testify and the others did not. None of the 98 witnesses called by the Crown testified that they had been attacked by Pickton, and some insisted he was not violent at all.

Petrie wanted to use the woman’s evidence, as well, to support the testimony of a key Crown witness, Andrew Bellwood, who told the jury that Pickton once confessed to handcuffing women before killing them.

The Crown also argued the woman’s story pertained to one of the six women on the indictment – Brenda Wolfe – whose DNA was found on a handcuff key ring in a loft in one of Pickton’s outbuildings.

However, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie maintained that the survivor, who he noted had a severe substance abuse problem and a criminal record that spanned two decades, attacked Pickton that night during a drug binge. Pickton, his lawyers argued, was just trying to control the woman when he put a handcuff on her wrist and tried unsuccessfully to attach it to something in his trailer.

Ritchie also told the judge that Pickton could have defended himself in a separate trial over the 1997 allegation, but it had been stayed and it wasn’t fair to now lump it into the missing women "mega-trial." Paraphrasing Shakespeare, Ritchie told Williams that allowing the woman’s testimony at Pickton’s trial would be so unfair it would be tantamount to dropping poison into the jurors’ ears.

In a written ruling following the heated pretrial arguments, Williams sided with the defence, deciding the knife-attack incident could not be considered similar to what happened to the other women because there was no proof she was to be killed and dismembered following the attack. (All six of the women Pickton was convicted of killing were dismembered, and at least three of them were killed by gunshot wounds.)

"I find that there is simply not anywhere near the required degree of similarity to permit the conclusion that it is likely that the same individual committed both the 1997 incident and the murders of the six women," Williams wrote.

Williams added his conclusion "may seem to offend common sense," but he was required to strictly follow the law. "To do otherwise is to imperil the fair trial rights of the accused," he wrote.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


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