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Police came close to 'slam-dunk' conviction of Pickton in 1998

Artist's sketch shows accused serial killer Robert Pickton sitting in the prisoner's dock as he listens to closing arguements at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, B.C. Monday November 19, 2007.

Jane Wolsak/The Canadian Press/Jane Wolsak/The Canadian Press

Serial killer Robert Pickton would probably have been convicted of murder in 1998, four years before he was arrested, if a street prostitute who escaped after being violently attacked had died during care for her wounds, the Pickton inquiry has heard.

Detective Constable Lori Shenher testified Monday at the inquiry that she interviewed the woman attacked by Mr. Pickton a few weeks after Vancouver police received the first tip in July, 1998 indicating Mr. Pickton's possible involvement in the murder of missing women. A court order prohibits the publication of the woman's name.

The woman told her that prosecutors dropped an attempted murder case against Mr. Pickton because she was a drug addict and they thought she would not have been a credible witness, she said.

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Det. Constable Shenher disagreed, telling the inquiry she thought the woman would have been believed in court. "There was nothing in my interactions with her that would have made me question her credibility at all," Det. Constable Shenher said.

She had heard the woman had "actually died on the operating table a couple of times" when she was taken to the hospital after Mr. Pickton stabbed her, Det. Constable Shenher told the inquiry. The woman's heart had stopped and she was revived, she said.

"But had she died, we probably would have had a slam-dunk murder conviction [of Mr. Pickton]without her testimony," Det. Constable Shenher said.

The Pickton inquiry, formally known as the Missing Women Inquiry, was appointed to look into why Mr. Pickton was not arrested before February, 2002. The provincial inquiry is also attempting to find out why an attempted murder charge against Mr. Pickton was stayed in early 1998.

The attempted murder charge stemmed from an incident in March, 1997. Det. Constable Shenher said she was told about the incident by the street prostitute who was stabbed by Mr. Pickton.

The woman said she was picked up at Princess and Hastings streets, which Det. Constable Shenher described as the "epicentre" of the area from where prostitutes were going missing. The woman was to receive $100 for oral sex, the police officer said.

They drove out to Mr. Pickton's farm, Det. Constable Shenher said she was told. They went into a trailer on the farm and had sexual intercourse, rather than oral sex, Det. Constable Shenher said. He refused to pay her and tried to handcuff her. A fight ensued.

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Both Mr. Pickton and the woman were in and out of consciousness, Det. Shenher said she was told. The woman escaped and was picked up by a couple driving down the road.

Mr. Pickton is currently serving a life sentence for the second-degree murder of six women. At his trial in 2007, the court heard that both the woman and Mr. Pickton were seriously injured in the incident in 1997. Crown counsel are expected to testify later at the inquiry about the case.

Det. Constable Shenher told the inquiry she had only seven years experience when she became an investigator in Vancouver police's missing persons unit in July, 1998 and she had no previous experience conducting a homicide investigation.

She received no help from senior managers on how to conduct the investigation into the missing women. It was up to her to figure out what direction the investigation should go, she told the inquiry.

She contacted the investigator in the attempted murder case, RCMP Corporal Mike Connor in Coquitlam, in the search for information that might help her. She had no previous experience with a multi-jurisdictional investigation, she said. After hearing the details of the attempted murder case, she thought Mr. Pickton was "the kind of guy we were looking for," she said.

She provided information from the tipster to Corporal Connor. She felt he was in a position to deal with it, she said.

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