A rash decision to attend the Robert Pickton trial

After graduating university and switching to a vegan diet, the two nasty patches of eczema that had blighted the skin atop both my hands for four years suddenly disappeared. That was 1995, and the eczema stayed away thereafter.

That changed at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, January 31, 2007. I had just picked up my media accreditation for the trial of accused serial killer Robert (Willy)  Pickton.

After two occasions spent outside the courtroom of the New Westminster B.C. Supreme Court, it was to be my first glimpse inside.

Most of the morning was taken up by Pickton defence lawyer Peter Ritchie’s exhaustive cross-examination of RCMP staff sergeant Bill Fordy—one of the officers who interrogated Pickton just after his arrest in February 2002.

The main courtroom was full, and no extra passes had come available, so there was no direct siting of Pickton.

In the overflow courtroom (101), a collection of young students took studious notes. A large video screen projected a segment of the main courtroom next door, with no sighting of the jury, Pickton or the public seats.

TV screens showed close-up action of those taking the stand, while the main camera showed the back of Ritchie’s constantly-bobbing head.

Pickton has been charged with 26 murders, mostly downtrodden drug-addicted prostitutes from the Downtown Eastside.

Grieving family members of those victims have been showing up intermittently and less frequently this week, but their presence is still felt.

This grisly trial deals with six of the 26 women—Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin, and Brenda Wolfe.

I prepared to take notes, at 10:30 a.m., breathing in the stale court air and taking stock of the fact this was the largest such trial in BC history. I had post-it notes and pen, having left all my belongings outside with the CBC crew due to stringent search procedures at the door and entrance to the courts.

As I took in the proceedings, the eczema broke out on my left hand, for the first time in 12 years. I was watching the bumps sprouting up across my knuckles, attempting to ascertain the origin or cause of this.

Eczema is certainly stress-related, and this was a stressful thing to behold. I had been though other turmoil in 12 years—negotiating immigration to Canada, periodic unemployment, etc.—but perhaps  the fact an accused serial killer was at such close quarters brought out a physical manifestation of stress.

I had no control over it, but it went away as soon as I was outside and on the way to the SkyTrain following the 12:30 break in proceedings.