Homolka entitled to fresh start, legal analysts say
While some parents in Chateauguay, Que., say they are angry that no one informed them that Karla Homolka may have children attending school in the community, legal experts say the convicted killer is entitled to a chance to start over.
Homolka was convicted of manslaughter for her role in the murders of teenagers Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, and sentenced to 12 years. Her ex-husband Paul Bernardo was sentenced to life in prison and declared a dangerous offender.
After psychiatric review, Homolka was deemed a risk to reoffend, so was denied statutory release two-thirds of the way through her sentence. She served the entire sentence, and as such, the justice system says she is free to embark on a new life, says Montreal-based criminal defence attorney, Eric Sutton.
“She’s free to parent and take her children to school and go about her life, free from being harassed or vilified because of what she'd done in the past,” Sutton told CTV Montreal Wednesday.
When Homolka was released in 2005, authorities placed several restrictions on her in an effort to monitor her movements. The peace bond stated among other things that Homolka had to notify police of her address and who she lived with. But a Quebec judge lifted those restrictions weeks later.
Forensic psychologist Franca Cortoni of the Université de Montréal says recent research shows that women who commit a sexual crime are at low risk to the public, with only 1.5 per cent of them committing a new sex crime upon release.
“What we found is that women who have been detected and sanctioned for a sexual crime like the case we're talking about now, the odds that they're going to commit a new sexual crimes is incredibly small,” she said.
But she added she understands why the possibility that Homolka may be in Chateauguay, southwest of Montreal, has created strong emotional reactions among the community, calling such feelings “totally understandable.”
Chateauguay police have not confirmed that Homolka lives in the area, citing privacy concerns. Still, some local parents contend that the community should have been warned.
"I'm quite upset by it,” parent Karen Cessford told CTV Montreal.
“I think as parents we should have the right to know if our kids are in danger. I found out she lives around the corner from me. Am I feeling safe for her to go out and meet new children and play and go to their house? Not so much."
Another parent, John Parlea, cautioned parents against taking their outrage out against Homolka's children.
"I can imagine other parents being uncomfortable about that, but at the end of the day, her child still needs to go to school," he said.
Journalist and former lawyer Paula Todd, who wrote an e-book about tracking Homolka down when she was living in Guadeloupe, says she’s known for more than two years Homolka was back in Quebec. But she says she didn’t try to find her in an effort to protect her children.
“I’ve met her children and they are three, innocent little people and I have dreaded the day they were going to be tracked down,” she said
Even so, she also believes people should be able to learn about convicted killers who move into their communities.
“I think people have the right to know, I think they have the right to make a decision about who's in their community,” Todd said.
Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, told The Canadian Press the fact that Homolka had been living undetected in Quebec suggests she has successfully reintegrated into society.
Tim Danson, the lawyer who represented the families of French and Mahaffy families, said he can relate to the different perspectives.
“If it was my kids living in the neighbourhood or going to the school I would certainly be concerned and I’d want to know,” he said.
“ … On the other side of the equation, which is a difficult proposition, is simply that her children are innocent and they have a right to a normal life,” he said.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Cindy Sherwin