Updated: Tue, 10 Apr 2012 17:46:08 GMT | By James Keller, The Canadian Press, thecanadianpress.com

Pickton attack survivor won't testify

Pickton attack survivor won't testify

Crown counsel Randi Connor arrives to testify at the Missing Women Inquiry in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday April 10, 2012. A woman was attacked in 1997 after going with Robert Pickton to his farm in Port Coquitlam and in 1998 prosecutors stayed charges against Pickton, citing concerns about the reliability of the victim. The decision to stay the charges is under scrutiny at the public inquiry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER - Poor, drug-addicted, with no phone number or permanent address, a sex worker who survived a bloody attack on serial killer Robert Pickton's farm 15 years ago was never given the opportunity to testify against the pig farmer because the Crown felt she wouldn't be a reliable witness.

More than a decade later, she is no longer addicted to drugs, but she still lives with the horror of that night in March 1997. She has decided not to testify at a public inquiry that's looking into how the police and prosecutors handled the various investigations targeting Pickton.

Then, prosecutors were quick to conclude the woman would be unreliable and did nothing to help her clean herself up, the public inquiry heard Tuesday. Pickton was never put on trial for the attack.

Now, the woman is so traumatized and afraid of how testifying would affect her and her family that she's opted out of appearing at the public inquiry altogether.

Once again, the woman won't be telling her horrific story.

The hearings into the Pickton case have shifted their focus to the Crown's decision to stay charges of attempted murder against Pickton — a moment that has long been seen as a lost opportunity to stop the serial killer years before he was arrested.

Two dozen women later connected to Pickton's farm disappeared between March 1997 and Pickton's arrest in February 2002, including 19 women who vanished after the Crown's decision to stay the charges in January 1998.

The victim from the 1997 attack, who is referred to in the hearing by the pseudonym Ms. Anderson, was scheduled to testify on Tuesday, but commission lawyer Art Vertlieb told the hearings her appearance was cancelled.

"Ms. Anderson has for many, many months consistently been concerned about her privacy, the privacy of her husband, the privacy of her three children, her parents and her family," Vertlieb said.

"We have interviewed Ms. Anderson more than once, and it's clear that she's turned her life around admirably. ... She very much wants to keep it that way. She has suffered a horrific event and I would suggest that no one in this courtroom would truly imagine or understand the enormity or the gravity of the event that she went through."

Vertlieb said he respected Anderson's decision and didn't plan on compelling her to appear.

Instead, the inquiry heard from the Crown counsel who entered the stay of proceedings that effectively dropped the charges against Pickton.

Randi Connor was assigned to the case in the fall of 1997. By then, Pickton was already facing charges that included attempted murder and forcible confinement, but he was out on bail.

Anderson had told the police she drove with Pickton to his farm in Port Coquitlam.

After they had sex, Anderson said Pickton slipped a handcuff on her wrist, prompting her to grab a knife and stab him. Pickton also stabbed her before she fled outside, where she was picked up by a couple driving by in their car.

Pickton arrived later at the same hospital and a key was found in his clothes. It matched the woman's handcuff.

Connor said to win a conviction, the Crown needed to prove that Pickton had instigated the attack. Pickton claimed Anderson was the aggressor, and he told police he tried to handcuff the woman because she was out of control.

When Connor met with Anderson in January 1998, less than two weeks before Pickton was to stand trial, Anderson appeared to be under the influence of drugs and couldn't provide a coherent account of the attack, Connor said.

"When I did the interview with her and I wasn't able to have her articulate the evidence, I thought at this point that the charge approval standard of a substantial likelihood of conviction no longer existed," Connor told the inquiry.

"In the circumstances of this case, she had to testify. We couldn't proceed without her."

Connor acknowledged that she didn't tell Anderson, Anderson's mother or RCMP investigators that she was considering dropping the case before she entered the stay of proceedings.

She didn't discuss whether there was any help available to Anderson that would ensure she was ready to testify, such as rehab or methadone treatment.

Nor did she ask the court for an adjournment until Anderson was in a better condition to appear.

"I wasn't in a position to ask for an adjournment because I couldn't assure a court that she'd be ready at a later time," said Connor.

Anderson testified at the preliminary hearing before the Pickton murder trial, but her story was never told to the jury, which eventually convicted him of six counts of second-degree murder.

Pickton's arrest in 2002 set off a massive search of his farm in Port Coquitlam, where the remains or DNA of 33 women were found.

He once told an undercover police officer that he killed 49 women.

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