Judge tells Ibrahim Ali jury to disregard testimony of Crown witness who died

VANCOUVER — The judge in the first-degree murder trial of Ibrahim Ali, who is accused of killing a Burnaby, B.C., teenager six years ago, has told the jury to completely disregard the testimony of a witness who died before the end of her cross-examination.

Dr. Tracy Pickett, a specialist in emergency and clinical forensic medicine who was called as an expert witness by the Crown, had not finished testifying in B.C. Supreme Court when she was found dead on Sept. 28.

She had testified about injuries suffered by the 13-year-old girl Ali is accused of killing.

But during a hearing Tuesday, Justice Lance Bernard instructed the jury to disregard Pickett's testimony and to resist all speculation or doing research into her death.

Pickett's unexpected death significantly curtailed cross-examination by Ali's defence lawyers and the instructions to the jury recognize the importance of cross-examination as a cornerstone of the adversarial justice system, Bernard said.

He also said Pickett's death and its circumstances are not relevant to the jury's deliberations and the trial will continue as though she had never testified.

"You must completely and absolutely put Dr. Pickett's evidence out of your minds, as if you never heard it," Bernard told the jury.

"Finally, it is essential to the fairness of this trial and to your impartiality as jurors that you not attribute blame in any sense whatsoever to the accused for Dr. Pickett’s death," he said.

The judge read his full instructions twice on Tuesday, and noted that directing a jury to disregard certain evidence is a well-recognized and accepted practice.

Bernard told the jury last month that when Pickett didn't show up to finish her cross-examination, the court wasn't aware she had died.

Ali has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of the teenager, whose name has been protected by a publication ban.

The girl's body was found in Burnaby's Central Park in July 2017, just hours after her mother reported her missing.

The hearing continued Tuesday with Crown witness Sgt. Michael Lim, an RCMP officer who testified that he was working as a crime scene manager when he went to Central Park on the morning the girl's body was found.

Lim said the dead girl was lying on her back when he arrived. He noticed her shirt and sports bra were partially pulled up, exposing her breast, he told the court.

Her underwear was tangled up in her jean shorts, which were pulled partway down, exposing her genital area, he said.

Lim's testimony is set to continue Wednesday.

Crown attorney Isobel Keeley told the court during her opening statement in April that evidence would show the teen was walking through the park when she was dragged off a pathway into the forest, then sexually assaulted and strangled.

Keeley said cellphone and bank records prove Ali was in Burnaby that day, while DNA results would prove he sexually assaulted the girl.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2023.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press