Man accused in deaths of prostitutes to learn fate June 3

EDMONTON — A man who once mockingly referred to himself as the “Robert Pickton of Alberta” will learn his fate June 3.

EDMONTON — A man who once mockingly referred to himself as the “Robert Pickton of Alberta” will learn his fate June 3.

Accused prostitute killer Thomas Svekla was so taken by his own celebro-notoriety that he helped weave the threads of evidence that will be considered in the case against him.

Svekla is charged with second-degree murder in the deaths of Rachel Quinney and Theresa Innes. The 40-year-old mechanic is also accused of committing indignities to their bodies.

In his closing arguments Friday, defence lawyer Robert Shaigec said the Crown’s case is nothing more than a rickety scaffolding of weak facts, hearsay, coincidence and testimony from accusers whose memories have faded with time or been addled by crack cocaine.

“There may be no homicide in this case, plain and simple,” Shaigec told Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Sterling Sanderman in a reference to Quinney’s death.

Svekla, flanked by prison guards, sat nearby in the prisoner’s dock, his paunchy frame clad in a light-grey golf shirt, his balding hair shaved to the skull.

He wore wire-rim glasses, moustache and goatee.

Pointing to testimony during the trial from a medical examiner, Shaigec reminded Sanderman that Quinney had so much cocaine in her system she may have died of an overdose.

Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson has conceded that the case is circumstantial.

But in his closing address, he said Svekla’s behaviour, his penchant for lying and the outrageous odds of one man with a predilection for violence finding bodies of two murdered women in two years is enough to carry a conviction.

“The lies continue to flow, so you should have no difficulty rejecting his explanation,” Finlayson told Sanderman, who is hearing the case without a jury.

The stakes may be higher than the case itself.

Svekla is the first person charged by Project Kare, a squad of police officers investigating dozens of missing sex-trade workers and others living high-risk lifestyles.

Court heard police tell Svekla during a taped interview that they were looking at him in six other deaths of Edmonton prostitutes and in the disappearance of two more.

“Charge me with all of them,” he fired back on the tape. “Let’s go with 14, ’cause I’m looking at $1 million each,” he said, in an apparent reference to plans he had voiced to others about a wrongful prosecution lawsuit.

Quinney’s case, as outlined in court, began June 11, 2004, when Svekla went out with a friend to smoke crack and instead made a grisly find in a lonely stand of trees in a farmer’s field northeast of Edmonton.

Quinney’s body was face up and splayed out. Maggots burrowed into her flesh, the normal course of nature doubling as the final indignity to a short and brutish life.

The 19-year-old mother of two was born in Frog Lake in eastern Alberta.

She worked north of downtown Edmonton on a strip with pawn shops, payday loan outfits, taverns, windows with bars and concrete recesses stained black with urine.

Police questioned Svekla, made him take a polygraph and got a DNA test, but came up empty and let him go.

When his trial began Feb. 19, the Crown knew it was thin gruel. There were no DNA matches, no confessions, no murder weapon, no eyewitnesses and no obvious cause of death, though the medical examiner couldn’t rule out soft smothering.

Sanderman had to wade through a welter of interview and wiretaps transcripts, direct and hearsay testimony and similar-fact evidence. He accepted some, but not all the evidence as he tried to create a fair picture of a man who was at turns egomaniacal, sorrowful, violent and bullying.

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