NEW WESTMINSTER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The rights of convicted serial killer Robert "Willie" Pickton are being violated by prosecutors' refusal to move quickly to hold a trial on his remaining 20 murder charges, his lawyers complained on Thursday.
Prosecutors officially notified the court on Thursday that they will not pursue the additional trial if Pickton loses an appeal of his December conviction for the brutal murders of six women whose remains were found at his Vancouver-area pig farm.
They also want the second trial delayed until the appeals court rules on the first murder trial -- which is not likely until mid- or late 2009.
The prosecution's plan, which was made public last month, has angered many relatives of the 20 remaining victims, and some attended the court hearing in New Westminster.
"I want it to go to trial so we can get our closure. To me it means he's getting away with 20 murders," said William Pearson, a brother of Wendy Crawford, one of the 20 women.
Pickton was initially charged with 27 murders but a judge agreed to a defense request to split the case into two trials so it would be easier to pick a jury. One of the murder counts was also dropped.
Police said Pickton lured the women to his pig farm in Port Coquitlam with promises of money and drugs, killed them, cut up the bodies in a slaughterhouse and disposed of the remains using the pigs and a rendering plant.
Prosecutors told the court there is no need for a second trial if Pickton loses his appeal because he has already been sentenced to life in prison, and additional convictions will not increase the punishment. Canada does not have a death penalty.
They also argued the second trial should not start until the appeals court's decision because that could determine what evidence can be presented.
Defense attorney Peter Ritchie said prosecutors were holding the 20 murder charges as a reserve in case Pickton wins his appeal. "They're trying to have their cake and eat it too," he told the court.
But Ritchie also hinted that one of the defense's first moves if it gets the court to set a date for the second trial will be to ask for a judicial stay of proceedings -- a move that would, in effect, scuttle the entire procedure.
Associate B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Patrick Dohm signaled he was sympathetic to the prosecution's concerns, but told both sides to present more arguments April 8.
Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Rob Wilson