NEW WESTMINSTER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Jurors in the trial of pig farmer Robert "Willie" Pickton were told on Friday they can consider the lesser charge of manslaughter if they choose to convict the man alleged to be Canada's deadliest serial killer.
The jury of seven men and five women began their deliberations in a court near Vancouver late Friday. In the current trial, Pickton, 58, is charged with six counts of first degree murder. He will be tried on another 20 counts later.
In his long and complicated instructions to the jury before deliberations began, Judge James Williams gave it the option of finding Pickton guilty of the lesser charges of manslaughter or second degree murder.
Police allege Pickton took drug-addicted prostitutes from downtown Vancouver, to his suburban farm where he killed them, chopped up the bodies and in a slaughterhouse and disposed of the remains through the use of farm animals and a rendering plant.
Pickton has pleaded not guilty.
The prosecution's case is based largely on circumstantial evidence, including the bones and clothing of victims found on his property and statements he is alleged to have made to witnesses, one of whom testified she saw him cutting up a body.
Pickton's attorneys say the bones do not prove he was the killer, and say police ignored other possible suspects in their investigation. They said the woman who claimed to have seen the body was a drug addict who may have been hallucinating.
The trial began in January and has heard from nearly 130 witnesses. A date for the trial on the remaining 20 murder charges has not been set.
Relatives of Pickton's alleged victims said they were pleased the deliberations had begun and hoped the jury would come to a verdict quickly.
"We have lived with this for a long time," said Daphne Pierre, whose younger sister Jacqueline McDonell has not been seen alive since 1999.
A verdict of guilty of first degree murder would require the jurors to find that the killings were deliberate and planned.
The judge said jurors could look at the charges of manslaughter and second degree murder if they decide that Pickton killed the women but did not plan the acts in advance.
If convicted of first degree murder on even one of the counts, Pickton would receive life in prison.
Reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Todd Eastham