Killer mom awaiting jury's decision

November 13, 2010

Elaine Campione poses for a picture with Serena, left, and Sophia, right, at a women's shelter in 2005

TORONTO - After more than three days, a jury continues to deliberate over the fate of a Barrie, Ont., mother charged with the first-degree murder of her two daughters.

As Elaine Campione sits quietly in the cells at the Barrie courthouse, north of Toronto, her mother and father silently pace the hallways.

Campione, 35, is charged in the murders of Serena, 3 and Sophia, 1, who were drowned in a bathtub Oct, 2, 2006.

While the mother admits she drowned her daughters, her lawyer argues that she was mentally ill at the time and is not criminally responsible.

This jury has a daunting task. While in most criminal trials, a jury must decide the guilt or innocence of an accused person based on whether or not they committed the crime, these jurors must try to crawl inside the mind of Campione to figure out her mental state.

Throughout the trial the jury has watched the troubling home video, taken by Campione, that shows baby Sophia splashing and kicking her chubby legs in the bathtub, happily smiling at the camera, just moments before she is drowned.


The camera abruptly pans to Serena, colouring in a book. Again the camera is shut off. About 45 minutes later, the camera is turned on again, and Campione sits in front of it, alone, telling her husband that the children are dead.

"There, are you happy now?" she asks him, as she blames him for beating her, blames him for not letting her take their children to live in her hometown in New Brunswick, and blames him for driving her to kill their children.

"You want to visit them? ... you can visit them in their caskets."

She also tells him that she, too, meant to die, but the overdose of pills didn't work.

Crown prosecutor Enno Meijers has suggested that the video was not meant for the jury or police, but that it was a revenge message meant for her husband who would come looking for her when she didn't show up for a child custody battle in court that week.

He told the jury that while Campione must have been mentally unstable, she knew "exactly" what she was doing when she held her children's heads under water.

"Imagine holding a squirming child's head under the water for two minutes?" he said to the jury. "Then imagine doing it again ... that's plenty of time to change your mind."

In contrast, Campione's defence lawyer, Mary Cremer, pleaded with the jury to understand that Campione was a mentally ill woman who lived in such terror of her violent, abusive husband that she was driven into a psychotic, delusional state where she believed the only safe place for her and her children was in heaven.

"Mental illness, when it hits, when it strikes you, it deprives you of your ability to be rational," Cremer told the jury.

She painted a picture of a distressed woman who went from psychiatrist to psychiatrist in a desperate search for help but was largely ignored.

If the jury finds that Campione was mentally ill, that is not enough, the judge explained in his charge.

Many people who are mentally ill are charged with criminal offences.

Rather, to fit under a not-criminally-responsible verdict, the jury must find that Campione was so mentally ill that she could not understand or appreciate the act of drowning the children.

Or the jury could find that even if she understood the drowning, it must find that she did not appreciate that it was legally and morally wrong.

Psychiatrists testified Campione did indeed suffer from depression and anxiety, with traits of psychosis and borderline personality disorder.

The psychiatrist for the defence testified he believed Campione thought she was performing an "altruistic" killing - to put them in a better and safer place.

But the psychiatrist for the Crown testified she appeared to have killed her children out of anger toward her husband and did not show any fear for the safety of her children in the months, days, even moments, before she killed them.

As the jurors deliberate, the waiting has seemed unbearable for Campione's mother, who at times closes her eyes and leans against the wall. Many times throughout this troubling trial she fell weeping into her husband's arms.

The children's father, Leo Campione, has never come to the trial. He was at one time charged with assaulting his wife and slapping Serena when the family was still together.

After they separated, he completed an anger management program where his counsellor wrote that he was "struggling to deal with his wife's extreme jealousy."

But his charges were dropped when the mother - the only witness - was charged with murdering his daughters.

Only once, when his estranged wife was first arrested, did he sit in the back of the courtroom but he never returned.

"I can't come back," he said at that time. "She took my beautiful girls away ... I can't bear to even look at her face."