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Court upholds killer's conviction

Canada's top court has upheld six murder convictions of a pig farmer accused of butchering women and feeding them to pigs in what police have referred to as the country's worst serial killer case.

Canada's Supreme Court was unanimous in ruling Robert Pickton's right to a fair trial was not affected by the judge's final instructions to the jury, although they split 6-3 on the reasons.

At the end of an 11-month trial, Pickton, 60, was convicted of murdering six prostitutes in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison with no parole for at least 25 years for six counts of second-degree murder.

The Vancouver pig farmer appealed his conviction, saying the judge gave improper instructions to the jury when they asked, on their sixth day of deliberations, whether they could find Pickton guilty if they inferred he did not act alone.

The trial judge said if they found Pickton "was otherwise an active participant" in the killings, they could find him guilty.

Pickton's defence argued the judge gave the jury an avenue to convict their client without giving them a chance to defend him properly as the prosecution's case rested on Pickton being the only one responsible for the crimes.

Justice Louise Charron said in her written decision on behalf of the justices that the judge's instructions were proper.

"There is nothing wrong, particularly in complex or lengthy trials, with the trial judge and counsel's narrowing the issues for the jury by focusing on what is actually and realistically at issue in the case, provided that, at the end of the day, the jury is given the necessary instructions to arrive at a just and proper verdict," Charron wrote.

The decision comes more than 10 years after a series of stories in a Vancouver newspaper began to link the disappearances of women from the city's darkest corners. Pickton was arrested in February 2002 by police investigating the disappearances.

Pickton is also charged in another 20 deaths that have not gone to trial. Those 20 charges were separated from the original trial because the judge said they included materially different evidence from the other six counts. If the Supreme Court had granted Pickton a new trial, the prosecution said they would try him for the 20 remaining charges.

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