Media frenzy as notorious Canadian killer to be freed


CANADA: Sometime before Tuesday a 35-year-old woman will slip out of a jail near Montreal, trying to escape a media mob that has been lying in wait 12 years.

The saga of Karla Homolka has transfixed the country since she helped her husband drug, rape, torture, videotape and kill two teenage girls and cause the death of her own sister.

She has now served her full prison sentence for manslaughter, and her impending release has sent the media and politicians here into shrill alarm. Appalled and fascinated, Canadians can't seem to get enough.

Homolka has been demonised, analysed and scandalised. Web sites make competing offers for her head in murder, or her hand in marriage. Lawyers, representing even figures remotely involved in the case, have buzzed from cameras to courtrooms with legal petitions and sound bites.

The courts have added conditions to her sentence. Lawmakers have vowed to rewrite the laws. A movie is promised. Two books and a TV special already are out. Her jailhouse gay lover is chattering away on television, and her now-ex husband is itching to tell all, if only the warden would let him. He's doing a life sentence.

"People are in a frenzy about it," said Peter Rosenthal, a Toronto criminal defence lawyer. "They are talking about having stiffer penalties, talking about bringing the death penalty back. It's a frenzy of vengeance."

Respectable newspapers have turned over their front pages to purple-prose columnists. "Lock up your children," warned the Globe and Mail.

"It's over the top," said Suanne Kelman, interim chairman of the Ryerson University School of Journalism in Toronto. "You would think she represents the greatest threat to humanity in the 21st century."

The dilemma for the mainstream press, Ms Kelman said, is that "it's just the kind of story people love. People love sex scandals, and they are fascinated by sex murders. They love it when the murderer is a woman, especially a sleazy blonde."

According to press accounts of her childhood, Homolka was just 17, a bright 11th-grader, when she met Paul Bernardo (23), a charming and handsome man, in 1987. They were an attractive couple, but Bernardo would ultimately be found by police to be a serial rapist.

In 1990, according to court testimony, Homolka and Bernardo drugged her younger sister Tammy (15). He raped Tammy, who later died, apparently from choking on her own vomit.

A year later, Bernardo kidnapped Leslie Mahaffy (14) from outside her house; in 1992 he took Kristen French (15) from a church parking lot.

Both were raped, videotaped, and murdered with Homolka's help, according to court testimony. But in 1993, Bernardo beat Homolka with a flashlight, and she went to police.

Homolka struck a bargain with prosecutors to plead guilty to two counts of manslaughter and testify against her husband. She portrayed herself as a battered wife forced to go along with the crimes.

After her sentencing, however, Bernardo's lawyer revealed that a police search of their home had missed six videotapes - hidden above a chandelier - that allegedly showed Homolka to be a more enthusiastic participant in the crimes than she had said.

The public was outraged. It appeared that a clever young woman had duped the prosecutors and courts. As her release date neared, prosecutors went to court and won "special conditions" on her release. She must report often to police, seek permission to travel, and may not have contact with children. She is appealing.