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missing women

Randi Connor, the Crown counsel who entered a stay of proceedings in January, 1998, for charges related to an alleged attack involving Robert Pickton one year earlier makes her way into testify at the missing woman's inquiry in Vancouver on April 10, 2012.John Lehmann/Globe and Mail

A sex worker's heroin addiction, which prompted prosecutors to give up an attempted murder case against Robert Pickton in the late 1990s, didn't prevent her from testifying five years later as the serial killer faced multiple murder charges, a public inquiry heard Thursday.

Crown counsel Randi Connor has testified that she stayed the charges in January, 1998, because she felt the victim was too strung out and incoherent to be a reliable witness – a conclusion she reached after a single meeting with the woman less than two weeks before trial. The woman was attacked in March of the previous year.

But prosecutors preparing for Mr. Pickton's multiple murder trial, confronted with a woman they felt was too impaired to put on the stand, worked with the police to clean her up and prepare her for the preliminary hearing, the inquiry heard.

The woman testified in April, 2003, providing a vivid account of the night she nearly died of stab wounds at Mr. Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam. She can't be identified because of a publication ban.

In 2003, the victim was "in a similar condition when Crown counsel first interviewed her, namely impaired by drug usage," Cameron Ward, a lawyer for more than two dozen missing and murdered women, told the inquiry on Thursday.

"Crown counsel takes some measures in order to procure her testimony under oath. We have the transcript of her evidence [at the preliminary hearing] which speaks to her eloquence, her ability to articulate her evidence about the same incident while she was on the stand."

Mr. Ward was cross-examining Ms. Connor, who has acknowledged she didn't take any steps to help the victim with her addiction before she entered the stay of proceedings.

Ms. Connor wasn't involved in Mr. Pickton's multiple murder trial, which followed a massive search of his farm in 2002, but she recalled speaking about the case with prosecutor Geoff Baragar.

Mr. Baragar said the victim was again in rough shape when he met with her before Mr. Pickton's preliminary hearing and he was concerned about her ability to testify, recalled Ms. Connor.

Mr. Baragar told her two police officers brought the victim to a hotel for a night of rest so she'd be in better condition, recalled Ms. Connor.

Several lawyers have criticized the Crown's decision to stay the charges against Mr. Pickton, pointing to the victim's ability to testify in 2003 to suggest prosecutors were too quick to dismiss her and that Mr. Pickton could have been put on trial for attempted murder in 1998.

After the charges were stayed, 19 women later connected to Mr. Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam disappeared.

Ms. Connor said she believed the woman's drug problem was long-standing and severe, pointing to a drug conviction that dated back to 1985 and minor theft convictions that she assumed were linked to a drug habit.

She said it appeared the victim's drug problem had improved by 2003.

"Mr. Baragar was telling me that her drug use was much less when he dealt with her, and he still had problems," said Ms. Connor.

Mr. Ward has requested Mr. Baragar be called to testify about how he was able to prepare the victim for testimony, although it wasn't clear whether that will happen.

The woman's story was never told to the jury at Mr. Pickton's trial, after which he was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.

The Canadian Press