The long, gruesome, legal saga of serial killer Robert Pickton came to an end in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday, with the dramatic announcement that the Crown would not proceed with 20 further murder charges.
Mr. Justice James Williams, who presided over Mr. Pickton's exhaustive first trial on six counts of murder, responded in a voice barely audible in the small courtroom: "Very well. Those proceedings are stayed."
Media lawyer Rob Anderson, who was there to argue for an end to a widespread publication ban on many details of the horrific murders, said there has never been a moment like it in a Canadian court.
"I can't imagine that's ever happened in the history of Canada, where 20 first-degree murder charges were stayed on one day," Mr. Anderson told reporters.
The conclusion of legal proceedings against Mr. Pickton, already serving a life sentence for murdering six women at his suburban pig farm, prompted Judge Williams to order the release of a wealth of material related to the case that had been under a judicial embargo.
The way for his ruling was cleared by the Supreme Court of Canada's unanimous decision last week, upholding Mr. Pickton's jury conviction on six counts of second-degree murder.
Included in the information now available to the public for the first time are details of a previous, attempted murder charge laid against Mr. Pickton in 1997, after a prostitute and drug addict reported that Mr. Pickton had gone after her with a knife. However, the Crown stayed the attempted murder charge early in 1998, believing there was not a substantial likelihood of conviction.
All of Mr. Pickton's identified murder victims had been involved in the sex trade, most were addicted to drugs, and all were connected to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
Also scheduled to be released, once measures are taken to prevent identification of undercover police officers planted in Mr. Pickton's cell, is the video of their prolonged jail cell conversations with him soon after his arrest.
Mr. Anderson said the wealth of material scheduled to be disclosed will assist public scrutiny of the Pickton murders and the police investigation, criticized by many as error-prone and too slow off the mark, despite the disappearance of scores of women over the years from the Downtown Eastside.
Families of the 20 missing women, whose DNA was found on Mr. Pickton's farm, had mixed feelings about the Crown's decision to forego another long murder trial.
"I can tell you right now, I'm not happy with it," said Barry Bottomley, father of Heather Kathleen Bottomley, who was 25 when last seen in April of 2001. "There's no justice. They can't have a trial for more than six?… I've kept my opinion to myself throughout this whole thing…, but put yourself in my position. What would you think?"
But Deborah Jardine, sister of victim Angela Rebecca Jardine who disappeared in 1998, said she is "rather relieved" by the move.
"I would like to see justice for Angela, but to go through [another grisly trial]again is a terrible step to your body and mind and well-being."
Melissa Gillepsie, the crown prosecutor, told the court that no additional convictions would increase Mr. Pickton's maximum sentence of life imprisonment, with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
"The public interest and, in particular, the safety of the public [does not require]a second trial on the outstanding 20 counts of first-degree murder, when no more penalty at law could be imposed," she said.
The Crown originally indicted Mr. Pickton on 26 murder charges, but those where subsequently divided into two groups of six and 20.
As he formally stayed proceedings against Mr. Pickton, Judge Williams also agreed to have him committed to a federal penitentiary. Since his arrest, Mr. Pickton has been held at a provincial pretrial institution.
With report from Fiona Morrow and Marten Youssef