Crown prosecutor Randi Connor said charges of attempted murder against serial killer Robert Pickton had to be dropped in 1998 – giving him four more years to kill before his eventual arrest – because the woman who escaped from him was too high on drugs to testify at trial.
Connor appeared before the Missing Women Inquiry, which is probing why police failed to catch Pickton much sooner and why Crown failed to put him behind bars when they had the chance after the 1997 knife fight.
“She wasn’t able to communicate the evidence and without her I didn’t have a case,” Connor told the inquiry Tuesday when asked about her interview with the heroin-addicted sex trade worker described as Ms. Anderson.
“She was nodding off. She was not able to articulate the evidence. She was in bad shape.”
After conducting the interview, she consulted with a senior prosecutor and the decision was made to stay the charges.
But Connor’s murky recollection of the events cannot be verified because the Crown office later destroyed their file – contrary to a requirement it be archived for 75 years in serious cases. The inquiry has been told it was an administrative error.
Connor was questioned as to why efforts weren’t made to interview Anderson much sooner – instead of just days before the trial was to start on Feb. 2, 1998.
“In an ideal world you want to talk to your witnesses, the vulnerable ones, as soon as possible, but sometimes it doesn’t work out,” she said.
Lawyer Darrell Roberts pressed Connor under cross-examination to admit that she should have realized addicts have “good times and bad times” and that she pulled the plug on the case too soon.
“You applied a one-strike policy against Ms. Anderson, you didn’t give her a second chance,” he said.
Connor admitted she did not seek an adjournment of the trial to allow more time for Anderson to get clean.
Nor did she tell Anderson or her mother the case might be dropped.
Connor said she thought the case could have been reopened within a year if Anderson improved and police knew that was an option.
“I felt she was in the throes of a very serious drug addiction,” Connor said. “I wasn’t in a position to say when, if ever, she was going to be able to testify.”
Connor denied an accusation she considered Anderson a second-class citizen.
She said she couldn’t even negotiate a plea bargain with Pickton’s defence lawyer to a lesser charge because “I didn’t have a witness.”
Connor said she did not recall ever talking to a Port Coquitlam RCMP officer about his investigation of Pickton at that time as a possible suspect in the disappearances of women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Unlike dozens of other prostitutes who were killed by Pickton, Anderson got away after nearly dying in the early 1997 struggle.
Pickton had snapped one handcuff on Anderson in his trailer and she reacted by grabbing a knife and fighting back.
A bloodbath ensued, ending with Anderson escaping to the street and both she and Pickton ending up in the same hospital. Staff found the key to the handcuff in Pickton’s pocket.
Commission counsel Art Vertlieb noted the case against Pickton would have been stronger if Anderson – who doctors had to resuscitate – had actually died in hospital.
It would have become a murder case, with no risk to the prosecution around the victim’s ability to testify.
Nineteen more women are believed to have been murdered by Pickton between the stay of charges in 1998 and his arrest in February 2002.
Anderson decided not to testify before the inquiry.
The hearing resumed Monday after a three-week break amid protests from women’s and aboriginal groups that are continuing to boycott the inquiry.