by Patrick H. Moore
For two almost magical weeks in February of 1993, Karla Homolka’s actions — although not exactly care-free — were still those of a woman determined to wring every ounce of pleasure out of life. Even while placing her fate in the hands of Canadian law enforcement and her very able lawyer, George Walker, Karla managed to have a torrid love affair (or should we say torrid sexual assignation?) with her Brampton boyfriend Jim Hutton, a handsome young man who bore more than a passing resemblance to Paul Bernardo and even drove the same model vehicle.
As February proceeded on its irrevocable march toward springtime, Karla very gradually appears to have grasped – albeit reluctantly — the ironclad fact that “the game was real” and that no matter what she did, and no matter how skillfully George Walker negotiated with the Crown, she would inevitably have to sign a plea agreement that, however “sweet”, would still require her to serve a number of years in a Canadian prison.
In the days following Paul Bernardo’s highly-publicized arrest on February 17th, Karla, for the first time since escaping Bernardo’s clutches after a particularly brutal battering in early January, showed all the signs of someone either having– or about to have — a nervous breakdown. The fact that Jim Hutton refused to have anything to do with her probably didn’t help. She began drinking even more heavily than usual and went into a un-Karla like tailspin, prompting George Walker to slow the merry-go-round down by postponing the signing of her plea agreement while she checked into Northwestern General Hospital for psychiatric treatment.
Karla checked into Northwestern General Hospital on March 4, 1993 and stayed there for the next seven weeks. During this period, she consumed copious amounts of psychotropic medications and plenty of painkillers, not to mention alcohol which her family and friends smuggled in to her. She also– in her devious manner– appears to have confused her psychiatrists who, at this juncture. seemed content to view her as more victim than victimizer.
While at Northwestern, however, Karla did take one key step toward “coming clean.” She wrote a letter to her parents and her surviving sister Lori in which she – to a degree – described the part she had played in her sister Tammy’s death.
Dear Mom, Dad and Lori, April 13, 1993
This is the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write and you’ll probably all hate me once you read it. I’ve kept this inside myself for so long and I just can’t lie to you any more. Both Paul and I are responsible for Tammy’s death. Paul was “in love” with her and wanted to have sex with her. He wanted me to help him. He wanted me to get sleeping pills from work to drug her with. He threatened me and physically and emotionally abused me when I refused. No words I can say can make you understand what he put me through. So stupidly I agreed to do as he said. But something, maybe the combination of drugs and the food she ate that night caused her to vomit. I tried so hard to save her. I am so sorry. But no words I can say can bring her back I would gladly give my life for hers. I don’t expect you to ever forgive me, for I will never forgive myself.
Karla — XOXO
Eleven days after writing the letter, Karla was discharged from Northwestern Hospital on April 24, 1993. A few days later, she was seen by her family physician, a Dr. Plaskos, who noted that she had gained 15 pounds and was on a variety of medications.
Inasmuch as Karla’s shared responsibility for Tammy’s “accidental” death was now out in the open, the Crown prosecutor Murray Segal insisted on adding two more years to her plea deal, bringing the total – prior to any good time reduction – to the infamous 12 years. Of course, at that time, it was anticipated that even with the 12 year sentence, Karla would only actually serve 52 months, a belief that ultimately proved to be false. The good news for Karla was that the Crown agreed that no new charges would be brought.
On May 5, 1993, George Walker received official notification that the Crown was offering Karla the12-year plea bargain. She was given one week to sign the now notorious document. The Crown informed Walker — who dutifully informed Karla — that if she declined to sign, she would be charged with two counts of first-degree-murder for the death of Kristen French and Lynn Mahaffey, one count of second-degree-murder for sister Tammy’s death, and other unspecified crimes which would probably have included various counts of rape or aiding and abetting rape. Walker accepted the offer and Karla reluctantly gave her approval. The plea agreement was finalized on May 14, 1993. Coinciding with the agreement was the understanding that Karla would fully disclose all of her involvement in the murders and associated crimes in proffer sessions with police investigators.
On that same day, Karla and her mother Dorothy traveled to Whitby, Ontario where the provincial government had rented two full floors of a Journey’s End Motel for the meetings, the purpose of which included videotaping “induced and cautioned” statements from Karla which were to correspond with her plea agreement.
Although the specific details of the 3-day rendezvous do not appear to be readily available, the meeting appears to have proceeded apace and the statements were completed and formalized on May 17th.
The Bond Conditions:
The following day, Paul Bernardo was formally charged with two counts of first-degree-murder, and an array of other charges including kidnapping, unlawful confinement, aggravated sexual assault and one count of dismemberment. Karla was charged with a mere two counts of manslaughter. She was released on a $110,000 bond and was given a strict list of 22 conditions to follow which included the following:
She was required to contact Insp. Bevan at least once per day; she was required to inform law enforcement one hour before leaving her home; and she was only allowed out under the supervision of one of her family members. Also, she was not allowed to drink “excessive’ amounts of alcohol, whatever that means.
The Notorious Videotapes:
Coincidentally, it was on May18th that Bernardo’s lawyer, Ken Murray, first watched the notorious “home movie” videotapes. Murray, who was not an experienced criminal defense lawyer, along with co-counsel Carolyn MacDonald, made the potentially unlawful decision to maintain possession of the tapes in order to use them to impeach Karla on the witness stand during Bernardo’s trial. This, of course, could easily be construed as withholding evidence. Between May and October of 1993, Murray and his associates studied over 4,000 case-related documents. Murray has stated he was willing to hand over the tapes to the Crown if they would let him cross-examine Karla at the anticipated preliminary hearing, which, it turned out, was never held.
Karla’s plea bargain had been signed, sealed and delivered before the contents of the videotapes were available for the Crown to review, which certainly contributed to the almost universal belief that Karla was getting off far too easily. Anne McGillivray, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Manitoba explains that the continuing public antagonism against Karla is partly based on the widespread belief that she had known where the videotapes were hidden, that she had willfully concealed the Jane Doe incidents, and, most centrally, that her claims of being under Bernardo’s control – a central tenet of the plea bargain – were dubious at best. The flames of speculation were fanned by the sealing of Karla’s plea agreement which continued until Bernardo’s trial.
Although many believe that the contents of the videotapes would have almost certainly led to a conviction of murder for Homolka, an inquiry into the conduct of the Crown prosecutors found their behavior “professional and responsible” and the “resolution agreement” that they had established with Homolka “unassailable” under the Criminal Code of Canada. Judge Patrick T. Galligan, reporting to the Attorney General on the matter, stated that in his opinion “the Crown had no alternative but to …[negotiate with the accomplice] in this case” as “the ‘lesser of two evils’ to deal with an accomplice rather than to be left in a situation where a violent and dangerous offender (could not) be prosecuted.” Thus, they really were stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” Without Karla’s cooperation, Canadian law enforcement would not have been able to prosecute and convict Paul Bernardo.
Karla’s Going-Away Party:
After chafing under her bail restrictions for several weeks, Karla received a short reprieve in the form of an informal “Going Away Party” in her honor thrown on June 6, 1993. Reporters hung around watching hoping to get some good shots of Karla “letting her hair down.” A neighbor or friend was reportedly heard telling Karla:
“Oh what the heck, the girls are dead, you can’t bring them back, why not party.” The reporters were eventually asked to leave because they made the revelers nervous.
The following day, Karla appeared at the St. Catharines courthouse to set a trial date.
On June 10th, sister Lori, Dorothy and Karla, along with George Walker, met with the Warden of Kingston’s Prison for Women to discuss the final details of her incarceration including transportation. Their appointment was wrapped up with a tour of the facilities.
One week later, Sergeant Bob Gillies escorted Karla to Lake Gibson where she pointed out the general area where she thought Paul had tossed the power saw that was used to dismember Leslie Mahaffy. After that, they went on a tour of Bayview Drive during which Karla – with her usual flair for the dramatic – was costumed as a schoolgirl. Karla identified personal belongings that she wanted to repossess and pointed out where Kristen French had vomited on the carpet, a concrete detail that law enforcement could use as biological evidence linking Kristen to the house and to Paul Bernardo.
After another three weeks of unrelenting restrictions, Karla’s trial began on June 28, 1993. The first three days were consumed by the media’s fight against a publication ban. Lawyers for Karla, Bernardo, the victims and their families, and the media, all argued intensely.
There is no doubt that Karla’s trial had a media circus atmosphere about it. 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.”
On July 2, 1993, court proceedings were adjoined for the long holiday weekend celebrating Canada Day.
Four days later, Presiding Judge Francis Kovacs ruled that the Canadian media could remain in the courtroom but were not allowed to publish anything but the following:
1) The contents of the indictment.
2) Whether there was a joint submssion as to sentence.
3) Whether a conviction was registered but not the plea.
4) The sentence imposed. (Copied from the archives of theToronto Star, July 6, 1993 edition)
The American press were ushered out and the public was not admitted. The remaining reporters sat in shock as the details of the crimes were read into evidence. Up until this point, no one knew any of the details; there had only been speculation, and a ton of rumors had been swirling all over the internet.
Karla was sentenced to 12 years on July 19th. She was then immediately transported to the Canadian Prison For Women (P4W) in Kingston where she would spend the next few weeks in the prison hospital. She was designated as a medium security prisoner.
In a rather macabre addition to an already bizarre set of proceedings, on July 20, 1993,Tammy-Lyn Homolka’s body was exhumed with formal permission given by her parents the day after Karla’s sentencing. The area around the grave site was cordoned off to keep the media at bay; it took four hours to get the casket out of the ground and the body was taken directly to the Coroner’s Office in Toronto for examination. Under direct orders from the Homolka’s, everything pertaining to Paul and Karla, except for one necklace, was removed from the coffin. Tammy was once again laid to rest that evening at 9:00 pm.
On August 3, 1993, Karla was transferred from the prison infirmary to a segregated section of Kingston Prison to spend her first night in the cell that was to be her new home.
In our next installment, we will examine Karla’s life at Kingston Prison for Women.
Note: Many of the factual details of the above post are based on Stephen Williams’ excellent book on the Karla Homolka case, “Invisible Darkness”. The interpretations of these facts are the work of Patrick H. Moore.
Click on the following links to read previous Karla posts:
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