An accused ex-cop's bizarre, cliché-ridden soliloquy


Wednesday, September 12, 2007 – Page A1

RICHMOND HILL, ONT. -- He marched into the witness stand carrying his own Bible, and asked to swear the usual oath, clutched the book to his chest and said, "I do swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God."

Within five seconds, he was making his first peremptory demand: "Can I have some water, please?"

If it wasn't immediately clear to jurors that Richard Charles Wills is no ordinary accused killer testifying in his own defence, it soon would be.

The former Toronto Police officer made a hard right turn to better face the jurors and launched himself upon what amounted to a day-long monologue that saw him reduce himself to tears, deliver a painful and protracted lecture on first aid, offer priestly benedictions of "Bless you" every time a juror coughed, reveal an alarming interest in the mechanisms of death by foul play, point out his oldest son and all but attempt to call him on stage as a living exhibit, present an interminable series of time-worn clichés with such pride they might have been his own intellectual work, and once rip open his blue shirt (it appeared conveniently unbuttoned beneath his tie) to expose a scar left by his bout with breast cancer and cry, "I got a gash here I gotta live with!"

In about five hours of testimony, Mr. Wills' lawyer, Raj Napal, asked perhaps two dozen feeble questions and was so utterly irrelevant to the proceedings that at one point, prosecutor Jeff Pearson stood up to mildly inquire, "Perhaps Mr. Wills will allow his own counsel to do his job?"

Mr. Napal, alas, showed little appetite for the work, and Mr. Wills continued by and large unmolested in his bizarre soliloquy.

He is pleading not guilty to first-degree murder in the Feb. 15, 2002, slaying of Lavinia (Linda) Mariani, his business partner in a power skating school and long-time married lover.

Months ago, when the trial began, Mr. Napal said in his opening statement to the jurors that Mr. Wills is guilty only of witnessing Mrs. Mariani's death, an accident that happened when, as was the couple's purported custom every day during the Valentine's Day week, she was retrieving a present from the spiral staircase in Mr. Wills's sprawling suburban home. Tragically, Mr. Napal said, on this occasion, Mrs. Mariani slipped and fell backward onto the ceramic tile floor of the foyer, cracking her head.

As Mr. Wills saw her there, lying in a pool of blood, Mr. Napal said, he decided upon a course of action the lawyer characterized as tender self-sacrifice, but which saw Mr. Wills dump her body, face first, into a 60-gallon garbage can, seal and caulk and bolt it, and then hide it behind a false wall in his basement for several months while Mrs. Mariani's husband, son and family were eaten alive by fear and worry.

This conduct, Mr. Napal said, was a result of Mr. Wills' overwhelming desire to protect Lavinia. Knowing she wanted her ashes buried at his Wasaga Beach cottage, he said, Mr. Wills couldn't bear the thought of her body being placed in a mausoleum or morgue.

Now 50 years old, Mr. Wills didn't get to this critical point in his evidence yesterday - at the rate he's going, it could be days before he gets there - but his shorthand description of his lover's death and his disposal of her remains was straight out of Hallmark Cards.

"Lavinia," he said by way of introduction, smiling the same grey tombstone smile he smiled every time he mentioned her and which he appears to believe is tender, "who's passed away."

Such delicacy was in stark contrast to Mr. Wills's lurid unsolicited, irrelevant and wide-ranging confessions - including "I ended up having a terminal case of hemorrhoids"; "The uniform [the police uniform] attracts them [women] like a bug light in cottage country"; and "We're [he and Mrs. Mariani] both very, very sexual people" - and particularly to his habit of taking vicious potshots at virtually every person he mentioned.

Mrs. Mariani's beloved son, for instance, whom Mr. Wills also professed to dearly love, has "only one fault - he'd suck out when he played sports. Not her," he added with his favourite Sam Spade-era compliment, "She was a champ." His estranged wife, while an otherwise fine person, sometimes stole money from his wallet and was stepping out on him; one of Mrs. Mariani's bookkeeping clients was hitting on her - oh, and falsely claiming personal expenses as business ones; Mrs. Mariani's husband was a "very decent guy" who nonetheless was blind to the affair the two of them were conducting under his nose, in his house; the folks who ran the power skating school before they bought it were stupid men who ran a terrible program; his police colleagues routinely cheated on their wives and dogged it at work. Etc., etc.: No one was spared the crude harshness of his judgment but for himself.

It was in the tedious reciting of his lengthy career on the Toronto Police force that Mr. Wills may have best revealed himself.

He joined as a 19-year-old cadet in December, 1976; he left the force some time after his arrest in 2002.

That's a long career, and by his own account, Mr. Wills was first, always and only a traffic cop, one of those fellows who works the radar gun and sets speed traps. In traffic he began; in traffic he stayed. He did stints at various police pounds - where seized cars are taken - and was for a time one of six officers seconded to the electrical company which had the contract for maintaining traffic lights.

So it was at best also a long and undistinguished career.

Yet Mr. Wills portrayed himself as a sort of gallant superhero always rescuing "small little children" from disaster, whether in elevators or car accidents, a near-genius who aced every police test he ever took (he stood, he said, 13th out of 141 candidates who wrote the sergeant's promotional exam in 1982), yet who declined promotion "because I didn't feel it was right" for someone as young as him to vault ahead of others, and who was content to be saving lives when they could be saved and remains haunted by those who couldn't be spared, not even by him. "Poor kid," he said of one alleged child who slipped from his grasp, "that [car] door was ripped open, she was a champ, poor kid."

He could always tell whether such children were breathing, he said, by waving a tissue over their little mouths. "I always have a tissue with me. Bad habit. But if the tissue moves ...."

He wept then, of course. "Rick's a bit of a softie," he told the jurors, by now leaning away from him, "as you'll see."