The Crown moves from shocking tapes to gruesome autopsies
The agony and the innocents
The Crown moves from shocking tapes to gruesome autopsies
For a few heartbreaking moments, the youthful innocence of Kristen French emerges, spontaneously and unexpectedly. In one scene, videotaped shortly after she was abducted while walking home from school on April 16,1992, 15-year-old French asks Paul Bernardo whether it is past 6 p.m. “My mom is going to be worried,” she says. In another, before being forced into sex with Bernardo’s then-wife Karla Homolka, Homolka asks French what kind of perfume she likes. “I usually wear Eternité,” says French. Homolka says: “Do you wear Giorgio?” French: “Yes.”
Homolka: “Do you like it?” French:
“I love it.” Those exchanges are contained in homemade videotapes played last week in the downtown Toronto courtroom where Bernardo is on trial for first-degree murder in the deaths of French and 14-yearold Leslie Mahaffy. But the fleeting images of a teenager with typical tastes and concerns stood in stark contrast to other scenes of a terrified and often sobbing French being sexually assaulted and physically beaten—and threatened with death.
So revolting were the tapes that spectators and reporters in Courtroom 6-1 sat in openmouthed silence, while the victim’s mother and father, Donna and Doug, were conspicuously absent. The showing of the French tapes concluded five days of video evidence—played up to three times each for the 12-member jury, while the public heard only the audio portions. Bernardo’s collection of homemade horror movies included sexual assaults on Mahaffy and two other teenage victims: Homolka’s 15-year-old sister Tammy, who was allegedly drugged by Bernardo and Homolka and subsequently died from choking on her own vomit; and a fourth teenager, known only as Jane Doe, who survived and may testify against Bernardo. By the end of last week, the Crown had moved on to evidence that was drier and more clinical but no less gruesome—showing what happened to French and Mahaffy once Bernardo turned the camera off.
The key witness was the coroner who performed the autopsies, Dr. Noel McAuliffe. Both girls, he said, had been badly beaten. French’s injuries included deep bruising around the head, face, back, chest and rib cage. They caused internal bleeding, which,
left unattended, could have been life threatening had she not been strangled first, possibly with an electrical cord seized from the St. Catharines, Ont., home that Bernardo and Homolka shared until early 1993. Despite the Crown’s contention that Mahaffy was also strangled, McAuliffe said he was unable to determine what caused her death in June, 1991, because her body had been cut into 10 pieces,
encased in concrete and dumped in a lake.
McAuliffe also revealed that, as part of the overall investigation, he performed an autopsy on Tammy Homolka in July, 1993, after her body was exhumed. Among the photographs, jewelry and other personal belongings of Tammy’s found in the coffin was a note written on a cream-colored card embossed with the names Mr. and Mrs. Paul K. Bernardo. “I love you, Tammy,” wrote Bernardo. “I always have and will. I miss you so much and my life will never be the same now that you’re gone. If I ever caused you any harm or pain, Tammy, please forgive me. I only wanted the best for you, just for you to be happy and to experience the joys of this world.” On the same note, Homolka wrote: “I love you deeply and will hold you in my heart forever.”
But it was the tapes that provided the most haunting evidence. As described by Crown witnesses, the French segments show the athletic, Grade 10 student—in some scenes wearing her school uniform, a Mickey
Mouse wristwatch and a signet ring bearing the initial of her boyfriend’s first name—being forced to participate in degrading sexual acts with both Bernardo and Homolka. The accompanying dialogue reveals both her innocence and her agony. At times, she is uncertain how some acts are performed, and expresses concern that she might be hurting Homolka. Elsewhere, French is forced to utter scripted lines clearly aimed at satisfying Bernardo, and fulfilling his fantasies. One particularly harrowing segment, lasting 3x/2 minutes, ends with Bernardo raping the teenager and demanding that she express her love for him. She blurts out the words “I love you” in a tone suggesting resignation and revulsion. When he instructs her to keep going, she repeats the phrase 26 times, in rapid succession. In other taped segments, she refers to him as “master,” calls him “the most powerful man in the world,” and tells him she hates g her boyfriend.
5 The videotapes involving Ma| haffy are equally disturbing. In one scene, Bernardo tells the blindfolded teenager, who was abducted near her family’s Burlington, Ont., home early on the morning of June 15, 1991, to engage in sexual talk while she touches her genitals. But she disappoints him by responding, in a sheepish and halting voice: “I don’t know what to say.” Later, when Bernardo asks what her interests are, she replies: “I like spending time with my friends.” Even in her last taped conversation, as she sobs and pleads for her life, the words are those of a child. “I’ll never double-cross you,” she promises her assailant.
Shocking as they are, the videotapes of French and Mahaffy last just over three hours, while the murder victims were kept alive for nearly 96 hours. Crown attorneys plan to provide the jury with an account of what happened while the camera was turned off by calling their star witness—Karla Homolka—possibly as early as June 16. Homolka, now serving concurrent 12-year sentences for manslaughter in the deaths of French and Mahaffy, is expected to describe in detail their last agonizing moments—and pin the blame squarely on Paul Bernardo.
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