Trial in Canadian serial murder case nears end

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NEW WESTMINSTER, British Columbia, Nov 27 (Reuters) Jurors in the 10-month murder trial of Robert ''Willie'' Pickton were told that the accused Canadian serial killer's fate by will soon be in their hands.

Judge James Williams warned the panel of seven men and five women that with the prosecution close to completing its final arguments, jurors should be preparing themselves to be sequestered for deliberations.

Under the Canadian legal system, jurors are allowed to go home after court when a trial is hearing evidence or arguments, but they lose that freedom once their deliberations begin and they must remain sequestered until they reach a verdict.

''I suspect you are going to be guests of our system by the weekend,'' Williams said.

The trial, which began in late January, had been expected to take more than a year to complete.

Yesterday, prosecutors played sections of a recorded jailhouse interview that Pickton had with an undercover police officer shortly after his arrest in February 2002. During the interview he appears to admit to killing 49 women.

Pickton's lawyers deny the statement is a confession. The jury saw the full videotape recording early in the trial.

Pickton was eventually charged with killing 26 of more than 60 prostitutes and drug addicts who disappeared from the Downtown Eastside neighborhood of the Canadian Pacific Coast city of Vancouver from the late 1980s until shortly before his arrest.

This trial deals with six of the murders. The trial on the remaining 20 charges will be held later.

Williams divided the case into two trials, in part, because of concern about its possible length.

Police say Pickton took the women to his farm in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, where, they say, he killed them after having sex, and chopped up their bodies in the farm's slaughterhouse.

The remains of six victims who are the focus of the trial were found on the farm.

Pickton has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have argued that the forensic evidence does not prove that he was the murderer. The defense team presented its closing arguments last week.

Once the prosecution completes its closing arguments, the judge is expected to spend three days reviewing the case and explaining the law to the jury before they begin their deliberations.

If convicted, Pickton could receive life in prison. Canada does not have a death penalty.

Reuters AK VP0435

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