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Friday, October 15, 1999A case of coarse villains and shining heroes
Women drove butcher's knife into police officer's side
The trial of Elaine Rose Cece and Mary Barbara Taylor is a tabloid dream.
Not a single element is missing: The accused are lesbian lovers who bear an unfortunate resemblance, as someone noted yesterday, to a matching pair of major appliances, in that they are broad-backed and overweight and waistless in their pale grey sweatsuits; their victim was a handsome young Toronto police officer whose tiny widow was but a month away from delivering the couple's second child when he was cruelly slain, and the unlikely trio came together in the parking lot of a low-rent Scarborough strip mall one night in August of 1998 because of fate and bad luck and perhaps even something so ephemeral as karma.
It is a hell of a story, with coarse villains and shining heroes, blood and guts, the wail of sirens and even a smattering of titillating sex, and John McMahon, the impish rosy prosecutor leading the case against Ms. Cece and Ms. Taylor, made the most of it in his opening address to an Ontario Court jury yesterday.
Mr. McMahon is a pistol. He spoke for 65 minutes, every one of them compelling.
He told the jurors how Toronto Police Detective-Constable Bill Hancox died -- surprised as he sat in his surveillance van, having just come from a Becker's convenience store where he had bought a pop, by a 12-inch butcher's knife driven in through his open window, through his left lung, severing both his pulmonary artery and vein, the tip of the blade coming to rest on his heart.
Det.-Const. Hancox slumped over onto the passenger's seat, then summoned tremendous reserves, drew himself up to a sitting position, and pulled out the knife from his chest; by the time one of his colleagues, Detective Steve Pattison, having heard a dreadful 15-second burst of inhuman gurgling on his police radio, raced to his side, Det.-Const. Hancox had managed to grab the microphone of his radio, and was saying, "I'm stabbed."
Det. Pattison felt for a pulse, found one, and cried, "Hang on Billy! I'll get help!"
Det. Pattison tried to administer mouth-to-mouth, but the blood rising in Det.-Const. Hancox's throat was coming so fast and furious, he couldn't, and began chest compressions. He, and others, made heroic efforts to save the officer, but at 11.02 p.m., less than an hour after Det. Pattison's plaintive cry of "Officer down!" Det.-Const. Hancox was pronounced dead at the Sunnybrook trauma centre. He was just 32.
"He didn't die instantly," Mr. McMahon told the jurors.
"He bled to death. His lungs filled with blood, his airway would have been blocked. It would have taken some seconds."
Mr. McMahon also told the jurors about the killers -- and make no mistake, Ms. Cece, who is 41, and Ms. Taylor, who is a decade younger, are the killers.
When they were first formally arraigned a few weeks ago, they tried, through their lawyers, to plead guilty to manslaughter, admitting responsibility for a culpable homicide; Mr. McMahon rejected the plea, and said then, as he did again yesterday, that he will prove what they are guilty of is second-degree murder, that they had the intent, which is a requisite element of the more serious charge.
Mr. McMahon gave the jurors a taste of how he intends to prove that. The two women, he said the evidence will show, were arguably not impaired by drugs or alcohol that night, though they were apparently depressed, and suicidal, and had been doing crack cocaine, and were at the end of their collective rope -- broke, and living on the street. They had gone for help to a native organization -- Ms. Cece is aboriginal -- and been driven to a hospital that is kitty-corner from the parking lot where Det.-Const. Hancox was stabbed. They wanted to be admitted to the psychiatric ward, but left when they were told that the rules precluded them both staying in the same institution.
Mr. McMahon said two psychiatric nurses will testify that when the women left, one or both of them said, "You fucking bitches, you will read about us on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow."
The women apparently phoned a friend of Ms. Taylor's. They told her, Mr. McMahon said, that no one loved them and that they were going to kill themselves. The woman did not give them "a sympathetic ear." She will testify, Mr. McMahon said, that "it sounded like the same old Mary."
The women decided they would steal a car. They boosted a knife from the Dominion store in the little plaza and positioned themselves by a phone booth in the parking lot, and waited and watched. Shortly before they saw Det.-Const. Hancox go into the Becker's store, Ms. Taylor gave Ms. Cece the last piece of crack, "to give her the courage to do what she had to do."
They noted that Det.-Const. Hancox had "a great body and beautiful hazel eyes." They had no idea he was a police officer.
When he got into his van and changed positions in the parking lot, they approached him. Det.-Const. Hancox was part of an undercover squad that was watching an apartment building across the street for a break-and-enter suspect. He had just been relieved by Det. Pattison as "the eye" and was now in a peripheral role.
They asked Det.-Const. Hancox to go for a walk. Det.-Const. Hancox said, "I'm a happily married guy." They asked, "Do you have kids?" "One," he said, "and my wife is expecting in a month." He asked them to move on.
In the dark, the women moved to the back of the van. Ms. Taylor told Ms. Cece she was "a pussy," that she'd do it if "she loved me," then told her, "Fuck it. Use the knife."
Ms. Cece had the knife hidden in the back of her shorts. She approached the van, pulled it out, and plunged into Det.-Const. Hancox. Someone yelled, "Omigod!, and Ms. Cece began to run. Ms. Taylor told her to slow down, to walk.
All this information, Mr. McMahon said, came from Ms. Taylor's brothers and also from her mother, Gwen Herreman. After the killing, the women had gone to Ms. Taylor's brother's apartment, where, it seems, they confessed every which way imaginable.
The next day, the brother gave them his last $6 and asked them to leave, then phoned another brother and his dad, and that afternoon, the two brothers went to the Toronto homicide squad, whose members later interviewed Mrs. Herreman. Some short time later, Ms. Taylor and Ms. Cece were arrested on the street downtown.
But in Mr. McMahon's stirring address, there were hints of another story, of two desperate women, at least one of them, Ms. Taylor, from a dysfunctional, terrible family, where the mother, Mrs. Herreman, was addicted to prescription drugs, had grave emotional problems, and "poor parenting skills." At the time of the killing, and their arrest, the two women had all their possessions each in a single bag, which they ditched that night in a park.
This is why, for all the high drama and emotion yesterday, the most ringing words came from Aaron Harnett, one of Ms. Cece's lawyers, who in a brief opening statement, told the jurors, in essence, that the real question is, What is this crime to be called? Is it second-degree murder, or is it manslaughter? It's not a mystery, he said. It's not a whodunit. What it is is a tragedy.
Christie Blatchford can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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