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Missing women's probe zeroes in on decision to stay charges in 1998

Randi Connor, the Crown counsel who entered a stay of proceedings in January, 1998, for charges related to an alleged attack involving Robert Pickton one year earlier in Vancouver April 10, 2012.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The Crown's fateful decision not to proceed with an attempted murder charge against serial killer Robert Pickton in 1998 is a key focus of the current inquiry into the handling of the case by prosecutors and police investigators.

But the file containing all notes and police reports on the bloody knifing altercation that led to the attempted murder charge against Mr. Pickton was mistakenly destroyed two years later, the inquiry heard Wednesday.

Despite bearing a red cover indicating it was a serious case and rules that such files should be preserved for at least 75 years, the Pickton dossier was among 71 boxes of legal documents thrown out in 2000, lawyer Leonard Doust informed the hearing.

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Mr. Doust, representing the province's criminal justice branch, said the branch has conducted a thorough investigation of the mistake and would reveal what happened shortly.

Crown prosecutor Randi Connor has resolutely defended her decision to stay the attempted murder charge. But she testified that the Crown's file would have greatly assisted her effort to shed light on the matter, including a critical interview she had with the victim of Mr. Pickton's attack.

After the interview, she concluded that the victim, a prostitute working the streets of the Downtown Eastside, was too strung out on drugs to provide credible evidence during a trial and stayed all charges against Mr. Pickton, including attempted murder.

"It puts me at a horrible disadvantage that I don't have my notes. I don't have precise dates," Ms. Connnor said. "It is an awful position, I can assure you, to be testifying about events 14 years later without the benefit of that file. …

"There's no question the file should have been archived. It should not have been destroyed. Absolutely," she told the inquiry.

As a result, Ms. Connor could not be precise about when she interviewed the victim and for how long.

After the charges were stayed, 19 more women, later connected to Mr. Pickton's pig farm in Port Coquitlam, vanished from the Downtown Eastside, before his arrest on multiple murder charges in 2002.

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The victim of Mr. Pickton's near-fatal knife attack at his farm told police she stabbed him first, after he placed a handcuff around her wrist. He responded by slashing her abdomen so severely that she stopped breathing twice on the hospital operating table, before being revived.

During her testimony, Ms. Connor agreed that she made no effort to take steps that might have helped the victim give evidence, saying that was the responsibility of police.

The victim, who cannot be identified, was furious when she learned charges had been stayed against Mr. Pickton, according to an interview she gave to an inquiry lawyer this February.

The victim recounted an angry phone call she made to Ms. Connor's home. "How … dare you drop those charges?" she recalled saying. When Ms. Connor replied that she was having dinner with her family and the victim should call her office, she answered back, using strong language: "I don't [care]if you're in Hawaii." She then hung up.

Details of the phone call were read to the court from the transcript of the victim's interview by lawyer Cameron Ward, representing the families of 25 murdered or missing women.

Ms. Connor, however, said she had no recollection of receiving such a phone call, adding that the victim's claim that her young daughter had first answered the phone could not have been true, since her only child at the time was a two-year-old son.

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