Do we know too much about Williams' crimes?
Published Wednesday, October 20, 2010 10:35PM EDT
As a court in Belleville, Ont., prepares to sentence Col. Russell Williams for two murders, two sexual assaults and a spree of break-ins, a debate is raging over whether the public has heard and seen too much information about his horrific crimes.
Williams has pleaded guilty to a range of charges, including first-degree murder in the deaths of 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd and 38-year-old Cpl. Marie-France Comeau. He was formally convicted on Tuesday.
Much of the evidence presented to the public in court this week has been profoundly disturbing, including photos Williams took of himself in women's underwear stolen during his break-ins, footage of the police interrogation in which he described the murders, and a letter he wrote to the mother of one of his victims.
Tim Danson, a lawyer who represents the families of the victims of infamous Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo and his wife Karla Homolka, noted that extremely distressing evidence was also presented at Bernado's trial.
But he said that was only necessary because Benardo never confessed, prompting a full trial at which prosecutors aired video of the couple's crimes to boost the chances of obtaining a conviction.
"That was just horrific for the families and I know it was very disturbing for the public," Danson said told CTV News Channel.
In the case of Col. Williams, he said, there needs to be "a balance between making sure there's a proper record to support the guilty plea and to support parole hearings in the future, and obviously the sensitivities of the situation."
The unflinching details have prompted media outlets to decide for themselves where to draw the line in their coverage of the trial without the constraints of a publication ban.
CTV's Paula Todd, who is also a lawyer, said that while evidence against Williams was "horrific," his case "is a step forward for justice."
"What we're tying to do right now is give the public the most protected, most accurate and most unassailable record possible," she said.
"We need the details of these crimes both so that the justice system can be improved, and so that when a savvy defence attorney goes before the parole board in 25 years, he or she cannot say, ‘Well that wasn't an open court.'"
As with the Bernardo case, Williams videotaped his crimes, raising the question of what to do with the footage once he is sentenced.
Todd said the videos should be preserved to guard against unforeseen developments if Williams eventually applies for parole.
"We could be destroying valuable evidence," she said.
Danson said he eventually applied for a court order to have the more graphic evidence in the Bernardo trial destroyed. He hopes that Williams' victims will seek legal counsel to do the same, he said, "once the process has run its course and he's got his life sentence."
"There are alternatives, like we did in the Bernardo proceedings," he said, such as transcripts that describe what was said and what was shown on the videotapes.
"That's far more than necessary for any parole hearing, when you balance that out against the rights of the victims to be guaranteed they won't be violated in the future."