Judge clarifies instructions in Canada murder case

Thu Dec 6, 2007 8:11pm EST
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By Allan Dowd

NEW WESTMINSTER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The trial of accused Canadian serial killer Robert "Willie" Pickton fell into confusion on Thursday with the judge admitting he made a mistake during his instructions to the jury.

Judge James Williams took the rare step of suspending jury deliberations for a brief time so he could clarify instructions on the law that he gave jurors last week about three of the six murder counts Pickton is facing.

"I regret that I misinformed you, it was inadvertent," a solemn sounding Williams told the panel of seven men and five women who have been deliberating Pickton's fate since late on Friday.

The surprise developments came shortly after the jury asked Williams a question about whether they can find Pickton guilty of murder if he was "indirectly" involved in one or more of the six deaths he is on trial for.

The jury's question appeared aimed at whether the circumstantial evidence at the heart of the prosecution case -- including human remains found on Pickton's pig farm near Vancouver, British Columbia -- proved he was the actual killer.

Williams told jury members they were not required to decide that Pickton acted alone, but they must also conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he played an active role in the deaths.

After suspending deliberations, Williams brought the jury back to clarify what was needed to decide if Pickton was an active participant in three of the murder counts.

The instructions are important because the jurors are allowed to use some of the decisions they make on those counts in determining if Pickton is guilty of all six charges.   Continued...

<p>Accused serial killer Robert Pickton (C) stands before Justice James Williams (background) in a New Westminster, British Columbia court in this courtroom sketch December 9, 2006. REUTERS/Felicity Don</p>