Dar Heatherington found guilty
By JUDY MONCHUK
An emotional Dar Heatherington, left, and her husband David leave the Lethbridge, Alta. courthouse on Tuesday. (CP/Jeff McIntosh)
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. (CP) - Alderwoman Dar Heatherington clenched her teeth and glared as she left a courtroom Tuesday, her credibility in tatters after a judge ruled she had fabricated a stalker and written lurid letters to herself.
At her side, with a protective arm around her shoulders, was her husband Dave - the man Heatherington's lawyer had suggested could have been responsible for the letters and obscene phone calls to her office and home beginning in October 2002.
Earlier Tuesday, Heatherington sat ramrod straight while provincial court Judge Peter Caffaro pronounced her guilty of public mischief in a case that crossed borders and made international headlines. She stared ahead and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, her sniffles audible throughout the packed courtroom.
"I found that Mrs. Heatherington was not to be trusted to tell the truth," Caffaro said of a videotaped interview the alderwoman had with Lethbridge police in April 2003 after months of surveillance failed to turn up anything.
The 41-year-old mother of three is to be sentenced Sept. 10. The judge agreed to the Crown's request for psychiatric assessments before that. The maximum sentence is five years in prison.
Heatherington was charged last year after she vanished in Great Falls, Mont., while on council business, only to reappear days later in Las Vegas saying she had been abducted and sexually assaulted. She recanted the story to Montana police, but the case kept her home city of Lethbridge under a media glare for months.
Lethbridge Mayor Bob Tarleck said he believes the conviction renders Heatherington ineligible to hold public office and appealed to her to step down voluntarily.
"I think the judge's comments and his order that she receive psychiatric assessment indicates he sees that as a step in . . . putting her life back together," said Tarleck. "That's where the emphasis needs to be: healing on city council, healing for the community and healing for Dar Heatherington."
If she doesn't resign, council could ask a Court of Queen's Bench judge to remove her from office. But with municipal elections slated for October, it may not be worth the legal expense.
Tarleck said the city solicitor is investigating whether Heatherington may be barred from council meetings prior to her sentencing.
"I think it would be an awkward situation and I would hope that she wouldn't attend council this summer," he said. The next council meeting is July 12.
The judge was highly critical of Heatherington's credibility. He pointed to the fact that police discovered she had been reading books about stalkers at the local library and that some of the letters she said she received were identical to ones found on her aldermanic computer.
"Coincidence? I think not," said Caffaro in his 40-minute address.
A forensic search of her laptop also recovered more than 100 messages of a sexual nature, erotic stories and photographs. There was no evidence that anyone but Heatherington had access to her computer.
The judge also dismissed as highly speculative a defence suggestion that Heatherington's husband was to blame, noting that "any indirect evidence . . . would lead this court to believe he loves his wife and would never do anything to harm or frighten her."
Dave Heatherington arrived at court holding hands with his wife and listened with furrowed brow to the judge's decision. The couple brushed past reporters afterwards and refused comment.
Defence lawyer Tracy Hembroff said it was too early to say if Heatherington would appeal.
Residents walking past Lethbridge City Hall expressed satisfaction at the conviction and suggested it's time for Heatherington to step aside.
"I think someone more credible should take her place," said Susan Baptiste, 45.
Bernie Wikdahl agreed. He said the case has embarrassed the southern Alberta city.
"If you get caught, bow out graciously," he said.
In Montana, Great Falls Mayor Randy Gray has said the city has moved on and wishes Heatherington well.