Still pulling the strings



Jul. 5, 2005. 09:29 AM

MONTREAL—Karla Homolka was always at her seductive best in front of a camera.


Licking her lips, licking her fingers, the lascivious smile, the breathless little-girl voice.


The camera has no judgment and doesn't flinch as it records monstrous things: Enslaved schoolgirls sexually tormented, an unconscious little sister defiled, the pantomiming of dead victims.


All an act, Homolka would claim later, scripted by Paul Bernardo, the demanding director and co-star; she never took pleasure from it.


So why should she be trusted now, assuming the posture of the repentant?


How credible were those self-serving words she uttered before the camera yesterday, in a CBC studio, whence Homolka was spirited upon her release from nearby Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, even before being reunited with her mother?


Unwilling — too afraid, too traumatized — to appear in court where a trio of lawyers argued before a judge, unsuccessfully, for an all-encompassing and unprecedented media ban that would forbid any reporting on Homolka's whereabouts and movements now that she's sprung from jail, back in the public domain.


Yet hardly trembling with fright as she was delivered in a van to the studio, sitting with composure through a painless interview that was tightly controlled, the parameters presumably established beforehand.


Homolka may not have tightened the strangling ligature around the necks of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. But she was clearly pulling the strings in this Radio-Canada scoop, a tactic to get the baying media hounds off her tail.


"I cry often. I still can't forgive myself. I think about what I've done and I don't think I deserve to be happy because of it.''


Shameless little liar.


She certainly looked happy, did she not, in all those jailhouse photographs that have made it into the newspapers, playing house, playing vixen, playing possum.


Playing, now, the remorseful penitent, a succubus turned supplicant, wanting only to get on with her life after a dozen years behind bars; a harmless "good girl'' who did just one teensy "bad thing'' so long ago, when she was another person, lacking any will of her own.


"What I did was terrible. I was in a situation where I was unable to see clearly, where I was unable to ask for help...


"I regret it enormously now because I know I had the power to stop all of that. But when I was living through it, I thought I had no power.''


She has power now, and yesterday she had the platform, to put that peculiarly Homolkian spin on her debauchery.


"Well, I didn't initiate the crimes, I followed. Yes, I did what I did, but...''


But what?


But, she is no Bernardo. For which, apparently, she should be given credit.


"People who think I'm his equal don't know Paul.''


Modest mea culpa aside, it is as if she believes she is owed an untroubled existence outside prison, having done her soft time.


Homolka was duplicitous, 12 years ago, when she struck her deal with the devil, bargaining her way to an absurdly lenient sentence in exchange for testifying against Bernardo. Never told the whole truth then, in a sworn affidavit over her signature. Not telling the unvarnished truth now, having crossed the threshold to freedom.


"I don't think I'll ever be truly free. There are different kinds of prisons. There are concrete prisons and there are prisons inside (oneself). And I think I'll always be in an internal prison...'' (voice cracking here but the camera captures no tears; there have never been tears behind the crumpled tissue) "...because of what I've done.''


There is no sincerity to Homolka's contrition. It is always, and unremittingly, about Karla: Her distress, her predicament, all the betrayals she's suffered.


Not to be believed when she said, at her Section 810 hearing last month, that she would accept the court's restrictions upon her release — a ruling that Homolka's lawyers will be appealing today.


`I don't want people to think I'm someone who's dangerous'


Karla Homolka, on release from prison


Not to be believed when she told her lawyers yesterday that she was too distraught to make a decision on whether to submit to cross-examination by media lawyers — as is required — in support of her Hands Off injunction application.


Not to be believed, in the prison correspondence she maintained for a while with a biographer, wherein Homolka flatly denied having a lesbian girlfriend behind bars.


Not to be believed, in all those psychiatric assessments, where she presented herself as rehabilitated, cloaked in the exculpatory mantle of battered spouse syndrome.


Not to be believed.


"This was a very difficult decision to make because I'm really a very private person,'' Homolka said, in fairly polished French, a skill acquired in prison. "I don't like talking about my feelings. I want to keep things private but that's not possible. I decided with my lawyer that this was the best thing to do because I don't want to be hunted down.''


That part, at least, is truthful. Homolka recoils from the prospect of being treated as prey, as she once treated others.


"I don't want people to think I'm someone who's dangerous, who will do something to their children.''


That "something'' would be drugging them, sexually assaulting them, imprisoning them and killing them.


She wouldn't talk about Jean-Paul Gerbet, the convict who strangled his girlfriend and with whom Homolka became intimately involved while in prison — a determining factor behind the release restrictions imposed by a Quebec court.


She wouldn't tolerate any questions posed in English.


And she couldn't — apparently because faithful retainer Sylvie Bordelais advised against it — make any apologetic overture directed at the families of her victims because that might contravene her release conditions.


But Homolka was willing to contemplate her future, what she might do now as a 35-year-old ex-con. "The only things that are important to me are that, firstly, it's legal, secondly it's moral, and thirdly it won't violate any of my conditions.''


She wants only to help others, on the outside, as she did while mentoring on the inside.


"I think, socially, I have to do as much as possible to help people. But emotionally, I am constantly living with all I have done. And that will never end.''


She's paid her debt to society. But the bill came cheap.



That is what will always rankle and enrage, the sense that Homolka got away with murder, with which she was never charged. Nor was she charged with any sexual crime, despite being so demonstrably and grotesquely a sexual predator.


The judicial system was kind to her in 1993 because she made herself indispensable to police and prosecutors, and held them to that star witness bargain even when her testimony was no longer crucial, when it became evident that she had withheld damning information — another rape on yet another unconscious teenage girl that Homolka had lured to her Port Dalhousie home as a treat for Bernardo. She did this of her own accord, not under his orders.


All along, Homolka has portrayed herself as helpless, worthy of sympathy, equally victimized as the girls she ushered to death. At no point, until the restrictions imposed last month, have her accommodating boosters tried to shake that preposterous notion out of her head.


Even as late as yesterday afternoon — when she had no choice but to leave prison before nightfall, after extending her own incarceration through the holiday weekend, purportedly in fright over the media gathered outside — Homolka was still finding succour in the protective embrace of Corrections Canada.


Three official vans came tearing out of the prison gate, drawing the attention of media crews that went tearing off in hot pursuit. The ruse extended for miles as the lead vans, with lights flashing, careered through red lights, leading the chase all the way to Leclerc prison, whereupon the decoy drivers got out of their vehicles and had just the biggest laugh.


This all occurred at about the time Homolka's lawyers were arguing in court that their client's requested media ban was necessary to avert exactly this kind of dangerous scenario.


Well, Corrections Canada is rid of Homolka now. She's no longer their problem; she's our problem.


Not a problem, she insists, not a threat. "Not at all, not at all.''


Won't ever hurt anybody again. Cross her little-girl heart.


Yesterday's ploy changes nothing. Homolka can run and bob, duck and cover. But she won't be able to secrete herself into the shadows of anonymity, not even here in the city of the insouciant Gallic shrug.


This country's most notorious female prisoner remains on the top of Canada's Most Wanted ex-felon list. This is the price of freedom: A lifetime of looking over her shoulder. And the thing that she purportedly most fears — public outing — will gain on her, by and by.

Additional articles by Rosie DiManno