Heatherington gets house arrest

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Saturday, Sep 11, 2004

LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. The final indignity for former politician Darlene Heatherington wasn't being sentenced yesterday to eight months house arrest, followed by a year-long strict curfew, for inventing a stalker.

It came when a packed courtroom in Lethbridge, Alta., learned that she was hooked on a cocktail of drugs and tried to kill herself when legal aid denied financing for an appeal of her public-mischief conviction.

The 41-year-old mother of three sniffled and swayed as Provincial Court Assistant Chief Judge Peter Caffaro outlined the conditions of the sentence, but muttered, "She hates me" as Crown prosecutor Photini Papadatou asked the court for a ban on prescription drugs for Ms. Heatherington.

"She's not crazy," Ms. Papadatou told the court during sentencing arguments. "She's aware of the nature and quality of her behaviour and can distinguish right from wrong."

Ms. Heatherington gained notoriety in May, 2003, when she vanished in Montana and surfaced in Nevada with a tale of being abducted and raped. At the time, she was a Lethbridge city councillor and, over eight months, told police in her hometown she was being stalked by an unknown male admirer who had written her obscene letters. In June, Judge Caffaro found her guilty of lying to police and ordered psychological and psychiatric examinations before he passed sentence. The maximum penalty allowed for five years in prison.

Those medical reports, which were read in court, described a woman who "doesn't suffer from any disease of the mind," but is likely addicted to OxyContin (oxycodone hydrochloride), an opiate sometimes known as hillbilly heroin. The court also learned she was hospitalized in July for trying to throw herself off a Lethbridge landmark, the 100-metre-high CP Rail high level bridge, the largest trestle of its kind.

The court heard that during the commission of her offence, she was taking OxyContin for pain, Remeron (mirtazapine) to help her sleep, Seroquel (quetiapine fumarate) to "calm emotional volatility," Imovane (zopiclone) to help her relax and Gravol, an over-the-counter drug commonly used to combat nausea. "In my view, that's quite a drug cocktail," Ms. Papadatou told the court.

The prosecutor, who said the crime could have a "chilling effect on real victims," urged the court to impose a six-month to two-year term in jail or under house arrest.

Defence lawyer Tracy Hembroff said a more suitable sentence was a conditional discharge and probation.

Under house arrest, Ms. Heatherington will be allowed to take her children to and from school, shop for four hours each week, and attend church, but have no visitors. For the remainder of her sentence, she must maintain a 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew and perform 100 hours of community service.

Outside the court, spectators grumbled about Ms. Heatherington not doing "hard time" and "getting off easy."

That wasn't the way Dave Heatherington saw it. He entered court clutching his wife's hand, but exited alone to defend her as she filled out paperwork to begin her sentence.

"We're going to do the right thing," he told reporters. "We're going to do the right thing. She's innocent and we want to prove that. How we're going to do it, I don't know yet."

Ms. Heatherington hasn't decided whether she would appeal, but her husband said the sentence was harsh. "I'm concerned that some of those things may have an effect on us as a family and, in effect, I'm almost sentenced through this as well," he said.

He may be right. The court heard that the family is already exiled within the community. Their house, van and children's school have been painted with graffiti. Mr. Heatherington has taken a demotion to relieve some stress on the job. Just two friends attended the birthday party of one of their children; six were invited.

"I'm very sad for her family," Ms. Papadatou told reporters outside the court. "I would hope that this community can put this matter behind them and treat her children with the compassion and the support and the kindness they deserve."

Ms. Hembroff, Ms. Heatherington's lawyer, agreed the children have suffered and the case has been arduous for herself. "My 15 minutes it wasn't worth it," the lawyer told reporters outside the court.

Still, she maintained that her client's crime was victimless and in fact helped put Lethbridge on the map.

"I don't believe for a minute it has harmed the community," said the lifelong resident.

That's an argument that makes Mayor Bob Tarleck grimace.

"This certainly was not a story that we would have ever invented to bring attention to our community," he said.