Globe and Mail

Police killers found guilty of murder

Women face 25-year prison terms; painful verdict leaves jurors weeping

Courts Reporter; With a report from John Saunders
The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, November 10, 1999

Acourtroom crammed with police officers, family and friends of slain undercover police officer William Hancox wept and rejoiced yesterday as Elaine Rose Cece and Mary Barbara Taylor were convicted of second-degree murder.

Three jurors wept as their foreman handed the double verdict of guilty as charged to Mr. Justice David Watt after deliberating for 12 hours.

Jurors had been asked to decide whether the lesbian lovers who knifed Constable Hancox to death after a crack-cocaine binge were guilty of manslaughter or murder.

As the verdicts were read out, Constable Hancox's widow and Ms. Taylor doubled over simultaneously and buried their faces in their hands. Ms. Cece, who had remained impassive throughout the month-long trial, shed a few tears and placed her arm on Ms. Taylor's.

While the verdict was unanimous -- jurors were convinced by prosecutor John McMahon that Ms. Cece and Ms. Taylor ambushed and killed the officer in an attempt to steal his vehicle -- it was clearly painful and difficult for many on the panel.

By the time each juror was asked to state if he or she agreed with the verdicts, six were in tears.

But their silent emotion was eclipsed by the cry of "Yes!" that rang out from the side of the courtroom holding the slain officer's family, including his widow, Kim, his mother, Anne, and sisters Lesley and Beth.

The second-degree-murder convictions carry a mandatory 25-year sentence with a minimum of 10 years before becoming eligible for parole.

Judge Watt asked the jurors immediately after hearing their verdict to provide recommendations on the parole-ineligibility period the women should face -- from 10 to 25 years.

David O'Connor, who represented Ms. Taylor, 31, appealed to them not to suggest any longer than 10 years. "I wish to say that [with] the nature of how it was committed, 10 years . . . will be sufficient," he said.

Marshall Sack, lawyer for Ms. Cece, 41, called on the judge to keep the jury sequestered overnight so they wouldn't act while in an emotional state.

But Judge Watt was adamant. Five jurors made no recommendation for either woman, while two called for 10 years and the remainder for longer periods. Judge Watt will pass sentence on Dec. 15.

The two women were homeless crack addicts, and lovers, when they encountered Constable Hancox outside a Becker's store in a Scarborough strip mall on Aug. 4, 1998.

They were depressed and desperate, having been turned away hours earlier when they tried to check into the psychiatric ward of a hospital together.

They had been planning to commit suicide, the jury heard, but their thoughts turned to stealing a car to get out of town shortly before 10 p.m., when Constable Hancox pulled into the mall parking lot to buy a pop and a candy bar.

He was taking a break from a plainclothes surveillance job.

Using a 20-centimetre butcher knife that Ms. Taylor had stolen from a store earlier in the day, Ms. Cece stabbed the officer in the chest, severing his pulmonary blood vessels and airway with one blow and causing him to drown in his own blood.

They abandoned the car theft when Constable Hancox, who had slumped across the front seat of his van, suddenly sat up and pulled the knife out of his chest.

They were arrested on a street corner two days later after police received tips from Ms. Taylor's mother and brother, Gwen and Dan Herreman.

Mr. McMahon had initially sought to try the women on first-degree-murder charges, arguing that this was justified because the victim was a police officer. But Judge Watt ruled that first-degree charges were not warranted because there was no evidence the women knew he was a policeman.

Mr. O'Connor, appearing stunned by the verdict yesterday, said he had never seen a jury express such emotion when delivering a verdict.

"It was obvious some of them had more trouble than others coming to that conclusion," he said.

Mr. Sack went further. "You could see the look of chagrin on their faces," he said. "It was obviously something they didn't want to do.

Calling his client, Ms. Cece, "one of the disenfranchized," Mr. Sack said her deprived background does not excuse her actions, but it should play a part in the sentencing decision.

Mr. Sack said it was contradictory for the justice system to ask a jury to decide a case dispassionately, then allow them to make sentencing recommendations while emotionally distraught.

Constable Hancox's widow, who was eight months pregnant when he died, maintained her silence to the end.

But Mr. McMahon said the verdict served the interests of justice and the community in a straightforward case of murder.

The convicted women "planned to do a carjacking and they used a butcher knife and plunged it in his heart to get it; it's as simple as that," he said.

Ms. Hancox left the court without saying a word in public. Surrounded by relatives and friends and pursued by news crews, she retreated across Nathan Phillips Square, behind the courthouse, shielding her eyes from the television lights.

Mr. McMahon described her as a religious woman who remained "a pillar of strength" throughout the trial.

"I think she's satisfied that justice was done, but it won't bring her husband back," Mr. McMahon said.

Police officials who turned out in support were less reticent.

"Billy Hancox's memory will always be alive in our organization," Deputy Police Chief Mike Boyd said. "The verdict will be some comfort to the family and to all the members of the force."

"He was a front-line officer who we always believed was ambushed and murdered," said Inspector Don Campbell, who was Constable Hancox's supervisor in the break-and-enter surveillance unit. "People have to realize that these officers in plainclothes are doing the same work as those in uniform."

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