Sunday 28 June 2009

Should he have been convicted of first degree murder?

Jurors in the trial of a Canadian pig farmer accused of being the country's deadliest serial killer came back with a guilty verdict after nine days of deliberations. Robert 'Willie' Pickton was found guilty of six counts of second- degree murder in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway, Marnie Frey, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Mona Wilson and Brenda Wolfe, who went missing from a seedy downtown neighbourhood in the Canadian Pacific Coast city of Vancouver.

Prosecutors argued during the trial that Pickton, acting alone, killed the women, butchered them, and then disposed of their body parts by feeding them to pigs or taking them to a rendering plant. Parts of two of the women’s bodies were found in five-gallon buckets in Pickton’s freezer; others were discovered in a dustbin, a pig pen and buried in manure on the farm.

The verdicts of second-degree murder disappointed many of the victim’s family members, who gasped and cried in disbelief as the jury found Pickton not guilty of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors allege that he lured at least 26 women to his Port Coquitlam pig farm, about 25 kilometres east of Vancouver, with promises of drugs and money and then murdered them. Pickton, 58, had pleaded not guilty to all 26 charges of first-degree murder.

After the seven men and five women delivered their verdict in New Westminster, a suburb of Vancouver, Judge James Williams asked them to recommend a prison sentence. He said, “You are asked to make a recommendation as to whether Mr Pickton should serve more than 10 years in prison but less than 25, before he is considered to be eligible for parole,” The jury later returned again, declined to make a recommendation about sentence length.

The jury convicted Pickton of a lesser charge of second degree murder, not the first degree murder charge he originally faced. The verdict still carries a sentence of life in prison, but the lesser charge makes it easier to get parole.

The jury's failure to convict Pickton of first degree murder meant it did not agree with prosecutors that he planned the murders in advance. I am not in agreement with the verdict of the jury.

There was abundant evidence presented during the trial, including mutilated body parts, DNA matched to the victims and the accused, hours of video tape of police interviews with Pickton, testimony by an alleged eye-witness who claims she saw Pickton----covered in blood----butchering one of the victims hanging on a meat hook, and a possible confession from Pickton to an undercover officer saying that he was “so close” to reaching his goal of killing 50 women but got sloppy and was caught. He later complained to police: “You’re making me out to be more of a mass murderer than I am.”

The primary difference between first degree and second degree is that sentencing can be discussed and recommended by the jury whereas in first degree, it is automatic with no chance for discussion since twenty-five years in prison is automatically mandatory.

Prosecutors involved in the lengthy murder trial of Robert (Willie) Pickton are satisfied with the second-degree murder verdict in the case, a spokesman for the Crown counsel office told the media. Stan Lowe said, "Mr. Pickton murdered these women. That is what the jury has found.” He was happy with the verdict because if they hadn’t arrived at that verdict, they would have had to acquit him and that was not what the crown wanted. Second degree murder was better than an outright acquittal.

The sentence is the same in for both degrees of murder. Life imprisonment. What was left was the date that Pickton would be eligible to apply for parole.

The judge sentenced him to the maximum he could sentence him after Pickton was found guilty of second degree murder----life with no chance of parole for 25 years. He will however be eligible to apply for parole 25 years from the day of his arrest. That doesn’t mean that he will get it.

The procedure for murderers under the original faint hope clause is that if the parole board considers them as being eligible to apply for parole after serving only 15 years, the murder has to appear in court before jury and the jury will decide whether or not he is worthy of release back into society.

The faint hope clause is no longer available to murders however, before that law was changed by parliament, anyone convicted before the canceling of that law, can apply for an early release after serving only 15 years. But even if Pickton applied for an early release under the faint hope clause, I can’t envision any jury granting him parole.

Does a serial murderer plan in advance that he intends to kill his victims? We might find the answer to that question by looking in Hansard. (Parliamentary records) The transcripts of hearings conducted by “The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights” provided insight into the purpose of s. 487.055(1)(b). ( has been declared a dangerous offender )

The transcripts of the Standing Committee hearings reveal that the purpose of s. 487.055(1)(b) is to include serial or “career” murderers with a high potential for recidivism in the DNA Databank. For example, Michael E. Zigayer, a senior counsel with the Department of Justice testified that:

“The provision is intended to deal with the person who commits more than one murder, has premeditated the commission of the offence. This is not a situation that arises out of one specific incident. He’s intentionally going out and killing again.”

Was Pickton really going out and killing again? Unlike many serial murderers, he didn’t hunt for women to kill and then kill them in various locations around the country like Bundy, the serial killer who murdered as many as 35 known victims in various states in the US. Pickton invited the prostitutes to his home on his pig farm and then murdered them in his barn.

If he had killed only one victim and said that he killed her in a fit of anger or out of fear that she might report him to the police and he killed her suddenly without much forethought, then the verdict of second degree murder might very well be appropriate.

What he really did was he killed twenty six women and then butchered each of them and disposed of their bodies so that they wouldn’t be discovered and he did this over a period of many months. Since he killed his first victim and realized that he could get away with it (which he did for a long time) it follows that he planned to kill the other twenty-five women. His victims were each murdered at a different time and although in the same location, Pickton was rightly convicted of these murders as separate counts.

It is beyond me as to how that can’t be first degree murder since that kind of murder is done with planned deliberation.

Why didn’t the Crown appeal the jury’s verdict? The reasons are quite obvious. First of all, the trial cost millions of dollars. Second, the penalty would still be the same; ineligibility to apply for parole for 25 years since that is what the trial judge gave Pickton. A second trial with respect to the murder of the six women would be academic and pointless.

Pickton was 58 when he was convicted and he was 53 when he was arrested and our laws in Canada will permit him to deduct the five years he was in custody before his trial from the minimum sentence of 25 years. That means that he can apply for parole in 2022. He will be 71 years of age then. However, the chances of this serial killer ever getting released from prison on parole during any part of his lifetime is highly unlikely. I don’t think any National Parole Board member would recommend that Pickton should ever be released unless the board member is willing to bring into question the issue as to whether or not he or she is a person of sound mind.

Despite the fact that the attorney general of B.C. promised that if Pickton was convicted of the murder of the six women in his first trial, he would be put on trial for the murder of the remaining twenty women. He later changed his mind to the disappointment of the families of the twenty remaining victims.

If such a trial could come about, a strange anomaly could occur. In the second trial, the jury might find him innocent if they believed that someone else committed the murders as Pickton has always claimed. If that was their verdict, it would raise a very troubling question; ‘Was Pickton also innocent of the murders of the first six victims?’

As I see it, Pickton is a convicted serial killer and is destined to remain in prison for the rest of his life. That being as it is, let’s move on. The families of the remaining twenty victims should be content that the murderer of their loved ones has been established as being Robert Pickton and that the jury that convicted him for the first six victims knew all along that he also killed the others when they found him guilty of murder of the first six. He in reality is being punished for murdering all twenty-six victims and they should believe that the members of the National Parole Board will know that also when they are considering his application for parole.

No comments: