Canada's largest-ever murder trial starts Monday

Robert William Pickton is charged with the deaths of 26 women, mostly prostitutes and drug addicts.

Robert Pickton  88 (photo credit: )
Robert Pickton 88
(photo credit: )
Jurors who begin hearing evidence Monday against a pig farmer accused of being Canada's worst serial killer have been warned by the judge to expect testimony "as bad a horror movie." Robert William Pickton is charged with the deaths of 26 women, mostly prostitutes and drug addicts who vanished from Vancouver's impoverished Downtown Eastside neighborhood in the 1990s. He is accused of luring women to his family's 17-acre (7-hectare) pig farm outside Vancouver, where investigators say he threw drunken raves with prostitutes and plenty of drugs. After his arrest in February 2002, health officials issued a tainted meat advisory to neighbors who may have bought pork from his farm, concerned that it may have contained human remains. Pickton, 56, will first be tried for six of the deaths and has pleaded not guilty to each. British Columbia Supreme Court Justice James Williams decided that the other charges would be heard in a later trial to avoid overburdening the jury. After Pickton was arrested and the first traces of DNA of some missing women were allegedly found on the farm, the buildings were razed and the province spent an estimated $61 million (€47 million) to sift through acres (hectares) of soil at the farm. Among the women Pickton is accused of killing is Sarah de Vries, a prostitute who disappeared in 1998 when she was 28. A 1995 entry in her diary revealed she feared for her life after women began disappearing in downtown Vancouver. "Am I next?" she wrote. "Is he watching me now? Is he stalking me like a predator and his prey? Waiting, waiting for some perfect spot, time or my stupid mistake." Allegations presented in more than a year of preliminary hearings have fallen under a publication ban that prevents the media from revealing details to avoid tainting the jury pool. Williams lifted the ban for the trial _ expected to last a year _ after neither the defense or the prosecution objected. Evidence has been so gruesome that some journalists covering the preliminary hearing have sought psychological counseling. During jury selection last month, Williams warned the potential jurors about what to expect. "I think this trial might expose the juror to something that might be as bad as a horror movie and you don't have the option of turning off the TV," he said as he excused one juror. More than 300 reporters have been accredited to cover Pickton's trial, and a room has been constructed with closed circuit TV to accommodate them. The prosecution is expected to call about 240 witnesses. If convicted of at least 14 of the deaths, Pickton would become the worst serial killer in Canadian history, surpassing Marc Lepine, who gunned down 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnic in Montreal in 1989 before shooting himself. Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, declined to comment. Pickton sat in the pretrial hearings in a specially built defendant's box surrounded by bulletproof glass. Clean-shaven with a bald crown and shoulder-length hair, he barely moved, though occasionally he chuckled to himself or scribbled in a notebook. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Vancouver Police Department have come under intense criticism by community activists and advocates for sex-trade workers, who claim authorities were slow to search for dozens of women who have disappeared in the area over the years. The trial covers the murders of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey. The parents of Marnie Frey said they were upset that it took the prosecution until last week to summon them as witnesses. "Pickton was charged in 2002. This is 2007," Rick Frey told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Friday. "Does it take them five years to figure out that we're going to be possible witnesses?" Lynn Frey said she would sit through the trial's first day. "I want to know what happened to Marnie," she said of her daughter, who was 25 when she disappeared in August 1997. "I don't know if I can handle it, but I want to hear it."