Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka

Legal Manoeuvers

In February, 2000, as reported by The Toronto Star, Paul Bernardo launched his long-awaited appeal with his legal team accusing Justice Patrick LeSage of evidentiary and procedural mistakes during the 1995 first-degree murder trial for the sex slayings of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. The appeal also attacked Bernardo's then-wife Karla Homolka's "deal with the devil" plea bargain agreement, saying LeSage "failed to instruct the jury that the fact that the Crown had agreed to accept her guilty pleas to manslaughter did not in any way prevent the jury from being left in doubt as to whether it was Karla Homolka who had intentionally killed the two girls."

The defense theory during the trial, which was echoed in the appeal, proposed Homolka alone killed Mahaffy and French, so Bernardo should be guilty of nothing more than manslaughter. The Crown's appeal response states Homolka's testimony was "not essential to a conviction for murder" due to the disturbing videos.

The Crown asserted that the videotapes showed Bernardo's attitude towards his victims saying he not only brutally degraded them but also continually demanded that they thank him and ask for more. By his behavior, recorded on tape, he showed that he thought nothing of the two girls and would not have hesitated to kill them.

"Any reasonable person who had seen the videotapes would find it impossible to believe that Karla Homolka would do anything to his victims without his permission. The video footage demonstrates that Bernardo remained in 'control' at all material times and was the dominant participant in the murders. Nevertheless, the defense argued for manslaughter on the theory Bernardo twice suffered the great misfortune that the minute his back was turned, Homolka, to his surprise, killed their captive. Any suggestion that Homolka could have killed the girls on her own volition, when considered against the video footage and the relationship depicted therein, is incredible," the Crown stated.

The prosecution believed Homolka was "guilty as a party to first-degree murder when Bernardo strangled them, notwithstanding her convictions for manslaughter, which were permitted at the time when the videotapes were still hidden from the authorities. In the alternative that even in the unlikely event that Homolka killed the girls, Bernardo aided and abetted a planned and deliberate murder, or was a substantial contributing cause of murder committed in the course of sexual assault and forcible confinement." In that role, Bernardo would also be guilty of first-degree murder.

Later in February, 2000, Federal Court Justice, Daniele Tremblay-Lamer, rejected an attempt by news organizations to gain access to unpublished details of Karla Homolka's life in prison. The issue concerned a publication ban on psychiatric assessments and other documents in Homolka's file. The documents were part of a lawsuit which Homolka filed in November 1999 when she asked the courts to overturn a warden's decision denying her escorted passes from the prison in Joliette, Quebec. Homolka later withdrew her request, which had prompted an outcry from those opposed to freeing her. Councel for news organizations the Globe and Mail, Thomson Newspapers and Southam Inc. attempted to appeal a court clerk's decision on the files' confidentiality but Justice Tremblay-Lamer refused to hear the matter, saying the matter was closed the minute Homolka withdrew her motion.

Late the following March, Ken Murray, Paul Bernardo's former lawyer, asked Justice Patrick Gravely to throw out a charge that he had illegally held the killer's sex videotapes from police, saying it took an "unreasonable" three years to get to trial. Murray had previously held on to the tapes for 17 months after he found them hidden in a washroom spotlight in May 1993. In his submission, Murray blamed the delay on a 26-month preliminary hearing in which he says his rights to a speedy-trial were unfairly impinged by the state as it sought only to protect his client's rights without showing any concern for his own.

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