Ryan Mahaffy is only 11 years old, but already the handsome, blond youngster understands the horror of rape and murder. He has grotesque nightmares. He receives psychological counselling. He has seen his parents lose their sense of humor, their lives consumed with sorrow and anger. Last week, the Grade 6 student from Burlington, Ont, spoke eloquently, and often tearfully, about his family’s ordeal as part of a sentencing hearing for 31-year-old Paul Bernardo, who raped and murdered Ryan’s 14-year-old sister, Leslie, and 15-year-old Kristen French. “You have changed my life in so many ways—some of them too personal to talk about,” Ryan Mahaffy said, as Bernardo stared at him impassively from the prisoner’s box. “Some people have called you a monster and evil, and I agree.”
So does Judge Patrick LeSage, who officially declared Bernardo a dangerous offender-meaning that Bernardo likely will spend the rest of his life in prison, ineligible for parole. That label was imposed on top of two 25year terms he is serving after being convicted on Sept. 1 of first-degree murder in the slayings of French and Mahaffy. He also admitted to the sexual assaults of at least 14 other young women in southern Ontario between 1987 and 1991. As officers led the handcuffed Bernardo from the courtroom, spectators in the packed public galleries stood and gazed one last time at Canada’s
most notorious criminal. The crowd included most of the women who survived Bernardo’s attacks, and they jeered him as he left. “Bastard,” shouted one. “Rot in hell,” screamed another. “This time, we won,” yelled a third. And finally: “Remember, Paul, we did this to you.”
The judge’s decision to throw away the key ended a long and painful ordeal. The sensational four-month trial included Bernardo’s homemade videos depicting the rapes of French and Mahaffy, as well as testimony from his ex-wife and accomplice, Karla Homolka, 25, who is serving concurrent 12-year terms for manslaughter. The Crown applied to have Bernardo declared a dangerous offender rather than hold a lengthy trial on 32 other charges he faced relating to a series of rapes that took place primarily in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. He was also charged with manslaughter in the death of 15-year-old Tammy Homolka, who choked on her vomit on Dec. 24, 1990, after being drugged and raped by Bernardo and her sister Karla.
During last week’s hearing, the Crown presented a summary of the facts in the sexual assaults, and Bernardo simply accepted the Crown’s version of events rather than formally pleading guilty. What emerged was a portrait of a bold and vicious serial rapist Bernar-
do usually grabbed his victims, who ranged in age from 14 to 23, as they walked home from bus stops alone late at night. He used a knife and death threats to subdue them, then raped them vaginally and anally. He broke one girl’s arm, stabbed another in the leg, and robbed several victims. He also boasted to more than one woman that he was the Scarborough Rapist, a term police used to describe the perpetrator of the crimes during a high-profile publicity campaign that attracted a tip which ultimately led them to Bernardo.
Throughout the hearing, many of the victims sobbed quietly, their heads slumped on the shoulders of friends and family members. LeSage read excerpts from their victim impact statements in which they told of suffering permanent emotional and psychological damage. “He didn’t just rape me,” one wrote. “He killed the person I was. I lost my dignity, my will to survive, my trust in other people.” Another wrote that “I feel a hatred in my heart and soul that I never thought was possible.” The French and Mahaffy families delivered statements describing a grief that never ends. Donna French spoke of sleepless nights spent sitting alone on Kristen’s bed, caressing her teddy bears and smelling her perfumes, and birthdays spent at Kristen’s grave. “Everywhere I go, everything I do, everything I see reminds me of Kristen,” she said. “Paul Bernardo took Kristen away from us physically. Thankfully, he could not take her spirit, her courage, her soul.” Besides Ryan’s presentation, Dan and Debbie Mahaffy showed the court a one-hour video consisting primarily of family photos taken before Bernardo murdered their daughter in June 1991. Almost invariably, Leslie appeared as an energetic and exuberant child with big bright eyes, radiant blond hair and a smile that could fill a room.
Through it all, Bernardo remained icy and unmoved. He made a strikingly disjointed statement to the court that betrayed a lack of remorse. He acknowledged guilt in the sexual assaults—while insisting that the Crown had insufficient evidence to convict him in some of them. He denied murdering French and Mahaffy, but offered: “All I can say is, I’m really sorry for what happened.”
Since his arrest in February 1993, Bernardo has spent most of his time at a detention centre in Metro Toronto. His permanent home at Kingston Penitentiary, right across the street from the Prison for Women where his ex-wife is incarcerated, will be a segregated cell, measuring nine feet by six feet and equipped with bed, toilet, chair, desk and sink. In all likelihood, he will never be released. As LeSage put it last week: “The restraint you require is jail, in my view for the rest of your life.”
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