Four years before the eventual arrest of serial killer Robert Pickton, a Crown prosecutor stayed an attempted murder charge against Mr. Pickton after concluding his victim was too strung out on drugs to provide credible evidence, a public inquiry has been told.
"She was nodding off. … She was in bad shape," prosecutor Randi Connor recounted. "I couldn't get details from her. I didn't get anywhere with her."
Ms. Connor was referring to her meeting with a woman who received life-threatening stab wounds in a violent altercation with Mr. Pickton at his pig farm in March, 1997.
The victim, who also stabbed Mr. Pickton, was found near the farm, bleeding heavily, a knife in her hands and a handcuff around one of her wrists. A key to the handcuff was discovered in Mr. Pickton's pocket.
Shortly after her interview with the woman, on Jan. 26, 1998, Ms. Connor decided to stay a number of charges against Mr. Pickton, including attempted murder.
That decision is considered critical to the inquiry's probe of the handling of the missing women's case by police and other authorities, since at least 19 women vanished from the streets of the Downtown Eastside between the staying of charges and Mr. Pickton's arrest in 2002.
Families of the scores of women believed to have been murdered by Mr. Pickton, along with advocates for marginalized women in the area, charge that many lives could have been saved if police had taken the disappearances more seriously. Most of the victims were drug addicts and prostitutes.
Ms. Connor was testifying Tuesday at the commission of inquiry headed by former B.C. Court of Appeal judge and attorney-general Wally Oppal.
She said the entire case against Mr. Pickton turned on the evidence provided by the victim, who barely survived the attack. "She was the whole case," Ms. Connor insisted. "Without her, we didn't have anything … and I didn't have a witness who could articulate the evidence at all."
Answering questions from inquiry lawyer Art Vertlieb, however, the Port Coquitlam prosecutor said she made no effort to seek assistance for the victim that might have helped her be a credible witness.
The victim cannot be identified.
Ms. Connor said she did not ask the woman whether her drug-taking had increased because of trauma brought on by Mr. Pickton's attack, whether she was interested in methadone treatment, or whether she might come back for a second interview when she was in better shape.
"In my opinion, this was not a new situation for her," Ms. Connor said, adding that she knew of the woman's heroin addiction.
She said she did not discuss her decision to stay the charges with the victim or her mother, who had helped authorities contact her daughter.
Details of what happened to the woman at Mr. Pickton's Port Coquitlam farm emerged during the serial killer's preliminary hearing. She told the hearing that after she and Mr. Pickton had sex, he slipped a handcuff around her wrist. Fearful, she grabbed a knife and slashed Mr. Pickton across the neck. He then stabbed her.
The woman nearly died from her wounds. Twice, her heart stopped beating on the operating table, but she survived.
Earlier Tuesday, the inquiry was informed that the woman, who had been scheduled to testify this week, had changed her mind.
Lingering trauma and a fierce desire to protect her privacy as she constructs a new life for herself prompted her decision, Mr. Vertlieb told reporters. Now married with children and free from drugs, the woman still has nightmares from her bloody experience at the Pickton farm, he said.
"There's no question that this is highly traumatic for her. … A knifing is the most violating of acts," Mr. Vertlieb said. "She looked into the eyes of someone trying to kill her. That is very real … and she does not want to inflict any more hurt on herself."
Paying tribute to her courage in kicking her long-time addiction to drugs, Mr. Vertlieb said the woman's testimony is not crucial to the inquiry.
"At the end of it all, this is a fact-finding mission, and we are already hearing from the Crown [over the staying of the charges against Mr. Pickton]" he said. "This is a very delicate situation, and we respect her decision."