VANCOUVER, Canada (AFP) — Pig farmer Robert "Willy" Pickton was found guilty Sunday of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women, in Canada's worst serial-killings.
The ten-month trial and unanimous jury verdict dealt only with six of 26 murder charges against the 58-year-old, who was convicted in the deaths of Marnie Frey, Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Ann Wolfe and Georgina Faith Papin.
Pickton faces a life sentence for his conviction on the six second-degree murder charges. He Pickton returns to court for sentencing Tuesday.
A second trial on the remaining 20 murder charges he faces gets underway on January 17.
Prosecutors had argued throughout his trial that Pickton picked up drug-addicted prostitutes from Vancouver's squalid Downtown Eastside, killed them, butchered them and disposed of their bodies by feeding them to pigs or taking them to a rendering plant.
Pickton's defence team did not dispute that the women's body parts, DNA or belongings were found on his farm.
But they argued that many other people frequented the pig farm, and also that Pickton was not intelligent enough to plan, execute and conceal the murders.
After the verdict, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie told reporters that the fact that the jury did not find Pickton guilty of first-degree murder means that they "weren't satisfied he (alone) committed the murders. You can draw that from the convictions."
But Crown counsel Stan Lowe hailed the verdicts as a "a confirmation of our assessment of the evidence in this case. Mr. Pickton murdered these women."
An avalanche of ghastly evidence was presented at the trial, while more than 100 witnesses took the stand.
Police testified about finding three severed heads and other body parts in a freezer and buckets on Pickton's area pig farm, human bones beneath a pig pen, and a gun with a dildo over its muzzle holding traces of DNA from Pickton and one of the women.
One prosecution witness testified in court that she saw Pickton butcher a woman hanging on a meat hook at his farm.
Another witness said Pickton had once described to him how he used handcuffs, a wire and a belt to kill prostitutes, then butchered them and disposed of their bodies.
Pickton, an angular man with lank grey hair who has been in jail since his arrest in February 2002, slumped almost motionless throughout the trial.
He appeared slightly anxious just before the jury's verdict as sheriffs ushered him into the court in the suburb of New Westminster.
Screams of "No!" from friends and relatives of the victims rang through the small dark courtroom as the jury foreperson first read out verdicts of "not guilty" of first-degree murder.
Then, almost immediately, people in the public gallery sobbed and hugged each other as the panel of seven men and five women delivered a "guilty" verdict on the lesser offences of second-degree murder.
Both first and second-degree convictions in Canada mean the convicted person intended to kill. Second-degree, however, means the jury was not convinced the murders were deliberate and planned.
Rick Frey, father of Marnie, criticized the verdict, telling AFP: "You don't kill six people over a period of time and there's no premeditated intent."
But he said the ruling was better than an acquittal. "It could have been better, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse."
After the verdict was read, dozens thronged in the square to light candles in memory of the victims, most of whom were known drug addicts who had vanished between the late 1970s and 2002 from the sex strolls of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
A police task force formed in 2001 investigated Pickton's farm after police arrested him in an unrelated investigation into illegal guns.
Murray Watson, foster brother of one of victims named in the second trial, told the public broadcaster CBC that Sunday's verdict was "good," but said he was eager for convictions in the other cases as well.
"We need a second trial," he said. "There won't be no closure with the families if we don't have that second trial."
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