VANCOUVER, B.C. – The lawyer for Robert Pickton wants to expand his appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Pickton’s case gets an automatic hearing in the high court because the decision by the B.C. Court of Appeal to reject his appeal wasn’t unanimous.
His lawyer, Gil McKinnon, said Thursday he wants to be allowed to argue issues beyond the ones raised by the lone dissenting judge in last June’s B.C. Appeal Court ruling. Justice Ian Donald said the trial judge didn’t instruct the jury over how the law on aiding and abetting would apply to Pickton.
McKinnon said he also wants permission from the Supreme Court to argue other issues, such as the judge’s jury instructions on similar fact evidence.
Outside court, McKinnon said he doesn’t think his bid to expand the scope of the appeal will delay the high court hearing next year.
“I’m still hopeful it will be heard in the early spring,” he said.
Pickton was arrested in 2002 and charged with 26 counts of first-degree murder in the disappearances of women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, most of them drug-addicted prostitutes.
The judge hearing the case opted to split the charges and Pickton was tried initially on only six counts of first-degree murder, while a second trial was to be held later.
After a trial that lasted almost a year, the jury found Pickton guilty of second-degree murder in December 2007.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams sentenced Pickton to life in prison with no parole eligibility for at least 25 years – the same as if he’d been convicted of first-degree murder.
In a 2-1 decision last June, the Appeal Court rejected defence claims that a new trial was warranted because Williams had made many significant errors while instructing the jury.
The court also said if the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Pickton should get a new trial, the Crown could reinstate the first-degree murder counts on the six convictions or on all 26 charges.
British Columbia’s attorney general said if the appeal fails, the Crown won’t proceed on the other 20 counts because the sentence would be the same.
In his dissent, Donald said Williams’ failure to instruct the jury on Pickton’s liability for the murders if he aided and abetted someone else resulted in a miscarriage of justice that could only be remedied by a new trial.
The issue arose because on the sixth day of their deliberations the jury asked Williams whether Pickton would still be considered guilty of one or more of the murders if they believed he acted indirectly.
It raised the possibility that the jury believed someone else may have been involved in one or more of the murders, a theory the Crown did not lay out at trial.
By not spelling out the law on aiding and abetting, Williams put the defence at a disadvantage during deliberations that could only be rectified by a new trial, Donald concluded.
McKinnon and Crown prosecutor John Gordon went before Donald on Thursday to argue technicalities of some of the wording of the judicial order that will be the basis for the Supreme Court of Canada hearing.
Donald issued a memorandum to the two sides last month that referred to his dissenting ruling but said Thursday he hoped he was not expected to have to explain his reasoning outside the ruling itself.
“A judge in my position really has only one chance to explain himself,” he said, adding he has ho plans to amend or clarify his ruling.
Donald said he would issue a revised version of his memorandum based on suggestions for wording changes.
McKinnon says besides arguing the aiding and abetting question, he also wants permission from the Supreme Court to argue other issues at the hearing next year, such as the judge’s jury instructions on similar fact evidence.