NEW WESTMINSTER, British Columbia – A pig farmer accused of being Canada's worst serial killer was found guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women Sunday.
Robert 'Willie' Pickton was facing the first of 26 murder charges for the deaths of women, most of them prostitutes and drug addicts from a seedy Vancouver neighborhood.
Pickton, 58, was found guilty of the murders of Mona Wilson, Sereena Abotsway, Marnie Frey, Brenda Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury and Georgina Papin. The defense acknowledged that their remains were found on Pickton's farm outside Vancouver, but denied he was responsible for their deaths.
Pickton listened to the verdict with his head bowed. He will receive life in prison and will not be eligible for parole for at least 10 years when he is sentenced Tuesday. The jury had no recommendation Sunday on whether to extend that 10-year period. When the jury entered the courtroom again for that announcement, Pickton smirked.
Two jurors, both women, wiped tears from their eyes while the verdict was read.
The jury of seven men and five women took 10 days to reach a verdict. They had the option of finding Pickton guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter or not guilty on any of the six counts.
Second-degree murder is a lesser charge that means a murder was not planned. First-degree murder, which means a murder was planned, also carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison but does not offer parole eligibility for 25 years.
"It should have been first degree," said Rick Frey, father of Marnie Frey. "You don't have six murders over that time and not have first degree."
Family members and friends gathered for a candlelight vigil outside the courthouse after the verdicts.
Last week, Judge James Williams reviewed the transcript of a videotape in which Pickton is heard telling an undercover police officer that he had planned to kill one more woman before stopping at 50, taking a break and then killing another 25 women.
"I was going to do one more; make it an even 50," Pickton told the officer, who had been planted in the accused killer's cell and gained his trust.
A day earlier, Papin's three sisters cried and clutched each other's hands in court while the judge reviewed the testimony of witness Lynn Ellingson, who said she walked in on a blood-covered Pickton as Papin's body dangled from a chain in the farm's slaughterhouse.
The judge also reviewed testimony of prosecution witness Andrew Bellwood, who said Pickton told him how he strangled his alleged victims and fed their remains to his pigs.
Pickton has been charged in the slayings of 26 women, but almost 40 others are on a police list of missing women. The investigation into their disappearances is ongoing.
Prosecutors said Pickton will be tried for the 20 other murder charges later, but no date has been set.
Health officials once issued a tainted meat advisory to neighbors who might have bought pork from Pickton's farm, concerned the meat might have contained human remains.