Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka

Setting the Stage

Karla's trial in 1993
Karla's trial in 1993

Karla's trial had a media circus atmosphere about it when it began on June 28, 1993. Burnside and Cairns described the defendant: "Karla sat impassively, wearing a green jacket over a one piece green dress that seemed oversized and somehow too broad for her slender shoulders. On her feet were black shoes with a slight heel. Unlike her court appearance a month earlier, when she wore a schoolgirl's tartan kilt and blazer, Karla now looked somewhat matronly. Yet her clothes were out of place with the false eyelashes, deep-red lipstick, and heavily caked foundation on her face. If she was matronly, then she was a matronly Lolita."

Her psychiatric report helped set the stage for the plea-bargain deal. Dr. Malcolm, the psychologist, concluded that Karla "knew what was happening but she felt totally helpless and unable to act in her own defense or in anyone else's defense. She was in my opinion paralyzed with fear and in that state became obedient and self-serving."

At the end of the trial, the media people left, allowed only to report a few of the details so that the jury pool that would be selected in the future for Paul's trial would not be tainted by information they heard or read before the trial.

Expecting a public outcry over the plea bargain, Murray Segal chose to make a statement: "Why not a greater penalty in light of the horrendous facts? Without her, the true state of affairs might never be known. A guilty plea is the traditional hallmark of remorse. Her age, her lack of criminal record, the abuse and the influence of her husband, and her somewhat secondary role were factors. She's unlikely to re-offend."

Karla left the trial after receiving the agreed sentence and prepared herself for what was sure to be an ordeal — the trial of her husband, Paul Bernardo.

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