Toronto Star

November 3, 1999

Karla fights for a taste of freedom

Convicted killer asks the courts for escorted temporary releases

By Michelle Shephard
Toronto Star Crime Reporter

Karla Homolka is fighting to get out from behind prison walls.

Armed with the supportive letters of two jurors who convicted her estranged husband, Paul Bernardo, and dozens of sympathetic letters from strangers, the killer is hoping she'll be able to spend time in a Montreal halfway house.

``I believe that through an (escorted temporary absences) program, I will be able to develop a positive support network along with reducing my social isolation,'' Homolka, 29, states in a handwritten application for the program, contained in court documents obtained by The Star.

The documents also include reports on the progress of her rehabilitation. This year's report mentions that Homolka wants to take a parenting course because she hopes to be a mother some day.

After six years in custody for her part in the slayings of two Ontario teenagers and her role in the drugging, rape and death of her youngest sister, Tammy, Homolka has launched a court challenge of her warden's decision to deny her the opportunity for the escorted releases, believed to be for eight-hour periods.

Two letters from jurors who convicted Bernardo in 1995 of murdering Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French are included in the application supporting the view that Homolka is a victim of spousal abuse.

``I am writing this letter because I'm disturbed by the frenzy that has been created regarding Karla's deal with the crown,'' wrote Erma Stultz, juror No. 10, in a 1995 letter to Homolka's mother Dorothy.

``I do not believe (Karla) is a threat to society now. . . . It would be my hope that one day Karla will reach a point where she will find a way to help other young women.''

In a private letter addressed to the Homolka family and included in the court documents, another juror says he barely survived Bernardo's trial, but was inspired by the strength of the Homolka family.

``I personally believe (Karla) was manipulated, controlled and battered. I sense she has the strength in her to survive,'' wrote Sandy Bateman, juror No. 7, in 1995.

The letters to the Homolka family and Karla herself have return addresses from all over Canada. One from Labrador, Nfld., is signed: ``A friend who understands.''

Homolka was sent to the Kingston Prison for Women on July 6, 1993 - the day she pleaded guilty to manslaughter for her part in the rapes and slayings of teenagers Mahaffy and French and her role in the death of her sister. She received a deal from the crown - a 12-year sentence - in return for her testimony against ex-husband Bernardo.

Bernardo has since been declared a dangerous offender and is being held indefinitely in Kingston Penitentiary.

In June, 1997, Homolka was transferred to the new $15 million Joliette prison for women, about 80 kilometres outside Montreal. Critics have dubbed the prison ``Club Fed'' for its cottage-style accommodation.

In Homolka's application to Corrections Canada this summer, she states that she wants to apply for a six-month program of temporary absences so she can get to know Montreal - where she wants to live once released - and to visit with her family outside the prison. Those visits were to take place at the Maison Thérèse Casgrain in Montreal, a halfway house run by the Elizabeth Fry Society.

Marie-Andrée Cyrenne, the warden at Joliette Institute in Quebec, refused Homolka's request in August. And a report written by Homolka's parole officer states that she still needs to ``focus on assuming responsibility and the role as an assailant that (Homolka) played in committing these offences, before any real social reintegration can be considered.''

The report continues: ``In conclusion, in reviewing Ms (Homolka's) attitude towards the process she has chosen for this application, we believe that it constitutes more of an expression of defiance of her (case management team) than a real need for personal development or family contact. . . . She has clearly told us that she does not want to appear before the (National Parole Board), and we therefore believe that she simply tried her luck with this application.''

In September, Homolka's lawyer, Pascal Lescarbeau, filed an application for a judicial review of Cyrenne's decision.

In her application for escorted leaves, Homolka describes the benefits she has received from the programs provided to her during her six years in prison.

``I learned to get rid of my mistrust, self-doubt, misplaced guilt and defence mechanisms. I am now completely in touch with my inner feelings,'' she writes.

All of her prison documents and applications are filed under the name Karla Leanne Teale. (In 1993, Bernardo changed his name to Paul Jason Teale. The Teale name came from a 1989 film about a fictional serial killer named Thiel, pronounced teal, like the colour.)

In Homolka's application, she says she has participated in anger management courses, worked with a psychologist and psychiatrist, taken a course on improving self-esteem and participated in a program entitled, ``survivors of trauma and abuse.''

A Corrections Canada rehabilitation plan contained in the court documents recommends that she continue these treatments to ``continue her soul-searching . . . and subsequently to assume responsibility for her violent criminal behaviour.''

One of the entries on the plan notes that Homolka was denied entry into a ``parenting skills program,'' since she was convicted of crimes involving minors. ``(Homolka) is dissatisfied with this decision and intends to contest it by making a complaint,'' her 1999 correctional plan progress report states. Homolka later indicates that she will take the course anyway because she wants to have children one day.

While in Kingston before her transfer, inmates referred to Homolka as a ``skinner'' - prison slang for a sexual pervert, a criminal despised by other criminals.

In an assessment last year from the Centre d'Etude et de Recherche de l'Université de Montréal and addressed to Homolka's parole officer, Ginette Turcotte, experts say it was ``too early for (Homolka) to be granted any form of conditional release.''

The report, written after eight hours of assessment on May 25, 1998, questions why Homolka would keep the name ``Teale,'' while knowing it is taken from a movie about a fictional killer.

In January, 1997, Homolka was eligible to apply for day parole and by July of that year, she was able to seek full parole. On July 6, 2001, Homolka will be eligible for statutory release after serving eight years, or two-thirds of her 12-year sentence.

In one of her most recent prison profile updates, also contained in the court documents, officials state that Homolka has become more ``distant'' and chose to stop receiving psychological counselling in October, 1998.

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