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Butorac's murder convictions set aside

Aldergrove man was convicted in 2010 of murdering two sex trade workers. New trials have been ordered.

Davey Butorac has been granted new trials, after winning an appeal of his conviction of murdering two sex trade workers. The Aldergrove man had been found guilty in 2010 of murdering Gwendolyn Lawton, 46,  of Abbotsford in March 2007 and Sheryl Koroll, 50, of Langley on July 7, 2007.

The B.C. Court of Appeal judgment was released on Thursday. Legal arguments were made in court on June 12.

Lawton's body was found on March 13, 2007 in a rural area of Abbotsford, while Koroll's body was found in an industrial area of Langley City in the morning of July 7, 2007. She had been seen alive a few hours earlier.

The convictions were set aside by the appeals court on the basis that the trial judge erred in accepting "the evidence of each murder as similar fact evidence with respect to the other." Butorac's lawyer had argued before the initial trial that the two counts should be separated, but the judge disagreed.

The Court of Appeal website says "The murders occurred four months apart. The trial judge found the victims had some similar personal characteristics, their bodies were left in similar positions, and both were brutally beaten.

"Both parties and the trial judge agreed, however, that these features alone were insufficient to constitute the high degree of similarity required for the admission of similar fact evidence. The critical factor was that the DNA or blood of both victims had been found in a Chevrolet Cavalier owned and driven exclusively by the appellant (Butorac).

"There was persuasive evidence the vehicle had been involved in the death of one victim. With respect to the second victim, the trial judge recognized the evidence was not as conclusive, but decided that two objects found in the vehicle had the same characteristics as “patterned” injuries observed on the victim, and that the presence of her blood and DNA without innocent explanation indicated she had been in the Cavalier in close proximity to her death.”

The appeals court says the trial judge erred in concluding the evidence met the high standard of striking similarity, required to justify the admission of similar fact evidence. It ordered new trials on both murder charges.

Butorac is also due in court on a third murder charge, likely in early 2014. He is charged with murdering Margaret Redford of Aldergrove in 2006.

Jury selection for the trial had been planned in February, but was postponed until November.