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Thursday, October 14, 1999Jury watches the hands that strangled child
The child-killing, baby-making sex machine that is Amina Chaudhary took the witness stand yesterday in support of her pitch to win a shot at early parole from her life sentence.
Chris Bolin, National Post
Convicted child killer Amina Chaudhary, shown leaving court in Toronto during her parole hearing, referred to the murder of an eight-year-old boy only as "the offence" in her testimony yesterday.
She was on the stand all day, and as she spoke, very quickly in a soft urgent voice, her strong broad hands flapped about in the air like large, ungainly birds, now punctuating her speech, now steepled before her, now used as a resting place for the little chin of her unlined oval face, so like a baby seal's, big-eyed and imploring and not a little vacant.
She, remember, has been convicted of strangling unto death an eight-year-old boy named Rajesh Gutpa with those hands. That she never thought to still them, that it never occurred to her that the very sight of them might invoke horror in the jurors upon whose judgment she has voluntarily placed herself, was remarkable.
It is as though there is upon her darling face a disfiguring growth the size of a house, which everyone but Chaudhary can see.
This hearing is a judicial review of the 25-year parole ineligibility period which automatically accompanies a life sentence in this country. Under the so-called "faint hope" clause offered murderers in the Criminal Code, she is asking for a chance, as she put it yesterday, "to start a new life." Essentially, what she is saying to the jurors is this: "Look, put aside the death of the boy, because I didn't do that. Look at the woman I have become."
The woman she is, is a piece of work: a slattern who doesn't know who the father of her second child is; who cheated on her first husband; who was so keen to get lucky that some short time after entering the prison system in 1984, she was visited by a male friend pretending to be her brother, a deception discovered when prison guards saw them kissing; who has lost contact with her first-born, a son, whose new name she doesn't even know now; and who then proceeded to court another man, a fellow convicted murderer in a nearby prison, whom she later married, and by whom she had three spanking new children, all of whom are being raised by a friend of hers.
She casts her marriage to Anees (Charlie) Chaudhary, who himself was convicted of second-degree murder and who is now out on full parole, as a storybook romance.
"We were two people doing life sentences," she mused fondly yesterday.
"Time was passing ... we were two people doing life sentences. We started writing a lot, we both of us started to talk about getting married, but I was still married to the old guy (her first husband, through an arranged marriage)...It wasn't love at first sight or anything, he (Mr. Chaudhary) wasn't the sort of boy I would have gotten to know on the outside." (As for why that is, it later became clear; husband No. 2 is a little beneath her; as she said, explaining why she doesn't know the name of the limousine company where he works, she's never known anyone before who drives a cab).
The couple married, she converted to Islam, and changed her name. He wanted children, and though at first "it didn't seem right" to her, soon they were planning their first, who would, they figured, be born about the time Mr. Chaudhary would be first eligible for day parole, their blithe joint assumption that of course he would get sprung immediately. Alas, she said, things don't work out the way they ought to, and he didn't get parole right away, "he didn't get nothing."
There she was, "with a baby on my hands," son Omar.
It was on his first birthday, on a private family visit in the prison, that they were celebrating (this was her euphemism for having sex) and, lo, she conceived their second child, Nyhla. And Nyhla was born, and, they were celebrating her first birthday when, lo, she conceived their third child, Tehmina, a child who, in her culture, was one of those particular children "who come into a family and brings peace and harmony".
It wasn't easy, she said.
There were great stresses. In her early years in the system, she was in protective custody, and there were actual bars on the door of her cell, and very little freedom. Sometimes, meals were slipped in on a tray. She couldn't walk past the general prison population without someone calling her "a baby killer".
But she endured, yes she did, and earned herself two university degrees, and moved out of protective custody (it grew boring, and stilted), and despite a few bumps, progressed smoothly through the system, moving eventually into the minimum-security house in Kingston where she has lived for the past year and landing jobs outside the prison walls, to which she is walked daily by citizen escorts. There is virtually no security at this old stone house; it has a big backyard, and picnic benches, and looks so normal, Chaudhary said, that if you were to drive by it, you'd think, "Wow! Nice house!"
She wants now, she told the jury, to be allowed to go the National Parole Board, and has short-term plans that would see her work at a prison-supervised job, perhaps live at a halfway house, and continue to work on her third university degree.
Long term, she said, she and Chaudhary want to "start somewhere new, in another province, and start a new life", gradually integrating their three young children, all under six, into the family.
In hours of evidence yesterday, her only reference to Rajesh was to describe his slaying as "the offence." She was not asked by her own lawyer about the slaying, and Tony Loparco, the prosecutor, didn't get that far in his cross-examination.
Several times, she pronounced herself nervous, but she didn't appear to be. A smile often played on her face; she looked at the jurors as she testified, and sometimes at the presiding judge, Mr. Justice Patrick LeSage.
Her equanimity was unshakeable, even when Mr. Loparco confronted her about an apparently unapproved visit her husband made two weekends ago, to the institution in Kitchener where she is staying for the duration of this hearing.
According to the prosecutor, Mr. Chaudhary had asked for permission to see her, been denied, and gone anyway. She said she knew nothing of that. She was unperturbed, as she was too when Mr. Loparco remarked that not only has she claimed to be innocent of Rajesh's death, but, at various times, tried to point the finger of blame at three other people.
Here, Justice LeSage was moved to remind the jurors that "this hearing would not be held if this woman were not guilty of this crime," to which Mr. Loparco, a moment later, replied: "I start from the premise she's done it."
At one point, Amina Chaudhary explained that she has been distracted of late. "I'm stressed out," she said, meaning by this hearing. "I'm just concentrating on myself." It stood as the enduring lesson of the day, that and the sight of those big hands, darting and slicing the air in front of her, a few feet away from the faces of the jurors.
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