Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka

"Black Widow" Defense

Several days later, Murray testified that he had felt a duty to Bernardo to retrieve, keep and use Bernardo's rape videos in support of a defense theory that Karla Homolka was a "black widow" killer. Murray described how his defense team had formulated the "black widow defense" for Bernardo in the French-Mahaffy sex slayings before they had seen the videos. He told the court that once he had seen the videos, he regarded Homolka as vastly different from the portrait of a coerced, manipulated and abused victim that she painted for prosecutors in her plea-bargaining, he said. All the videos, Murray said, were consistent with Bernardo's allegations that Homolka was "a liar" and very likely a killer.

Murray later described how he quit as Paul Bernardo's lawyer when Bernardo plotted to lie on the stand and told him to suppress the rape videos. Murray testified that Bernardo told him that he would testify that he had "no contact" at all with murdered schoolgirls Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. Bernardo reasoned it was his word against Karla Homolka's. When Murray challenged Bernardo, saying he would not allow the perjury because the rape tapes showed he had been with the murdered girls, Bernardo said he would lie anyway. "He was telling me he was going to lie on the stand and he was asking me to be complicit... asking me to hold back evidence that showed he was lying."

"I said you're not going to do it. You're not going to get up there and lie... I'm not supporting perjury."

As Murray's trial continued, some amazing insights into the minds of Bernardo and Homolka surfaced. At one point, Murray told the court that, soon after Kristen French's murder, Karla Homolka had sought a spiritualist's advice on how to exorcise the noises, bangs and voices that were coming from the basement where Leslie Mahaffy's body had been dismembered. The description of this and other events was contained in a thousand plus pages of transcript taken from Homolka's pre-trial interviews with Murray and his junior counsel at the Prison for Women where Homolka was being held in May 1994. The transcripts were released during Murray's trial. Unaware that the two teens had been murdered in Homolka's home, St. Catharines psychic Lori Disenthio advised her to pour ammonia down every drain and "ask the spirits to leave". She also told Homolka to keep an amethyst stone in her pocket to "absorb all the bad" around her.

Homolka states in the interview, "I didn't fully believe it, but I was ready to try anything."

She went on to describe that the spiritual advice eliminated the noises and voices for a while, but they eventually returned.

Later in April, as Murray's trial continued, a detailed transcription of the "rape videos" was read to the court. One of the most damning scenes is when the supposedly innocent Homolka is described as reaching for a dark green bottle known to contain the animal tranquillizer Halothane and, after soaking a rag with it, holds it to Jane Doe's mouth and nose. She then smiles, waves, blows kisses and licks her lips for the camera before sexually assaulting the girl and sitting naked on her.

This scene and others was detailed to the court in an attempt to strengthen Ken Murray's assertion that he kept Paul Bernardo's rape videos from prosecutors because they suggested Homolka was as likely as Bernardo to be a schoolgirl killer. Reading from a frame-by-frame and word-by-word police transcript of the chilling videos, Murray's lawyer, Austin Cooper, laid out details of the sinister rape of unconscious schoolgirl known only as Jane Doe, which had been previously shrouded in secrecy. Cooper's reading of that section of the video went far beyond the scant audio portions revealed at Bernardo's trial.

Cooper also read details of the couple's fatal drug rape of Tammy Homolka, Karla's 15-year-old sister on Christmas Eve, 1990, which she and Bernardo videotaped. Other footage, shot just two weeks after Tammy's murder, clearly shows Homolka pretending to be her dead sister while having sex with Bernardo.

The sections of the transcript depicting the rapes of French and Mahaffy was not read into the court record as they were protected by a publication ban which prohibited the reporting of any details but even without it, the details that were read cast a dark pall over court. The mothers of French and Mahaffy, who had previously been in attendance during the trial, left the courtroom as the reading began.

At one stage the gravity of what he was reading took its toll on Austin Cooper and he broke down in mid-sentence, asked for a break and was visibly choked with emotion as he left the courtroom. Superior Court Justice Patrick Gravely was also shaken by what he had heard and ordered an early lunch recess and an extended afternoon break.

Even case-hardened journalists who had previously seen or heard the tapes at Bernardo's trial five years before left the room or stopped taking notes to bury their heads in their hands.

Early in May, 2000, Karla Homolka's bid to gain prison passes to attend a halfway house in Montreal received a boost when a taxpayer-funded women's group lent its support to her campaign. The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which operates on a federal subsidy, not only supported her application but also wished Homolka "every success" in her Federal Court bid to overturn a warden's denial of escorted passes to a CAEFS-operated Montreal halfway house. Hearing of the group's support, Tim Danson, lawyer for the parents of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, suggested CAEFS was either "terribly ill-informed" about Homolka or was "not qualified" to assess her case.

Danson had previously asked that Homolka not be released on parole in July 2001 but should instead go before the National Parole Board as a dangerous inmate who should be held for the full 12-year sentence.

Homolka sought Federal Court relief in 1999 after Joliette warden Marie-Andree Cyrenne refused her bid for a series of escorted passes to the Maison Therese-Casgrain, a Montreal halfway house operated by the Elizabeth Fry Society of Quebec. Homolka's original bid was bolstered by psychiatric and psychological reports from her 1993 trial, which portray Homolka as an abused victim of Bernardo. Psychological reports filed in response by Joliette prison were deemed confidential and could not be published.

One reason for Homolka's bid to attend the safe house is that her girlfriend, Lynda Veronneau, was previously paroled from Joliette prison two years into a four-year term for leading a passive ex-girlfriend on a string of robberies. Veronneau had previously kept Homolka's true identity from her family by referring to her simply as "Jessica" telling them that she was deeply in love with her and planned to live with her when Homolka was released.

In June, 2000, the Toronto Star reported that seven years after he first became involved in the Bernardo Homolka saga, Ken Murray was acquitted of obstruction of justice.

In an interview, after the court's decision, Murray suggested that, even though he was happy with the court's ruling, he may never be able to shake the stigma of being the man who attempted to protect Canada's most reviled sex killer, and inadvertently his then-wife, Karla Homolka. "There's a saying among prosecutors that, if you can't convict them, at least you can ruin their lives," Murray said, "but, unfortunately, that's what they did to me."

 

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