June 25, 2009 / 6:34 PM / 8 years ago

Conviction of Canadian serial killer upheld

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A court has upheld the murder conviction of Canadian serial killer Robert "Willie" Pickton, who lured prostitutes to his pig farm near Vancouver, and disposed of their remains there.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal, in a 2 to 1 decision on Thursday, rejected Pickton's claim that the trial judge violated his rights by giving wrong instructions to the jury that convicted him of six counts of second degree murder in 2007.

"It is my opinion that the evidence strongly suggested (Pickton) was the killer, or one of the killers, on all counts," Justice Richard Low, wrote for the appeal court's majority.

Pickton, 59, has been charged with a total of 26 murders, but the original trial judge split the proceedings in two, citing the length and complexity of a single hearing.

The appeals panel agreed with prosecutors that the lower court erred in splitting the case into two trials. That means prosecutors could try him again on all 26 cases, but they have said they were unlikely to try the remaining 20 charges if the first six convictions were upheld.

Pickton was sentenced to life in prison with no hope of parole for 25 years. Canada does not have a death penalty.

His victims were among more than 60 women sex trade workers who disappeared from Vancouver's poor, drug-infested Downtown Eastside neighborhood over nearly more than a decade until his arrest in early 2002.

Pickton lured the women to his ramshackle farm in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam, killed them after having sex, butchered their bodies in the farm's slaughterhouse and used the animals to dispose of the remains.

Defense attorney Patrick McGowan said no decision has been made on whether to appeal Thursday's decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. He said he would meet with his client in prison to discuss the issue.

Because the appeal ruling was split, the country's highest court would have to hear Pickton's case if he requests it.

Thursday's dissenting opinion said that the mistake by the trial judge in answering a jury question was serious enough to require a new trial.

Relatives of some of the victims were upset that prosecutors do not intend to try Pickton on all 26 counts. Prosecutors say a second trial would not be worth the expense because he has already been sentenced to life in prison.

"We feel like we're getting let down a little bit by the justice system," said Susie Kinshella, whose sister, Wendy Crawford, is one of the 20 women Pickton is accused of killing but has not been tried for.

There have been accusations that police in the 1990s did not react quickly enough to reports that a serial killer was preying on Vancouver women, because the victims were poor and addicted to drugs.

Pickton is the only person who has ever been charged in connection with the women's disappearances.

Reporting by Greg Joyce, writing by Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson

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