Thursday, October 7, 1999
It hardly seems like jail at allBy MICHELE MANDEL
There is no remorse from this woman, for she still denies ever killing little Rajesh Gupta.
But she still wants a chance to apply for parole 10 years early. This is Amina Chaudhary's "faint hope."
But the first-degree murderer hasn't been denied much so far.
Since being convicted of killing eight-year-old Rajesh in 1984, she has had a nose job, become a licensed hairdresser, earned two university degrees, married another convicted murderer and conceived three children.
Despite supposedly serving a life sentence for murder, she's been allowed out to have her graduation photos taken and attend convocation at Queen's University. In the last few years, the National Parole Board has approved 34 hours a month of escorted passes so she can attend church and graduate courses at Queen's as well as visit her family.
Chaudhary, 38, and her husband, a Toronto limo driver now free on parole, also have weekly and sometimes bi-weekly visits, her parole report says. Since their marriage, they've also had conjugal visits in a private trailer once every four to six weeks, lasting from 48 to 72 hours at a time.
Yesterday, Chaudhary was before a judge and jury applying under the controversial "faint hope clause" of the Criminal Code to have her parole eligibility reduced from the current 25 years.
She sat in the prisoner's box yesterday without a flit of emotion crossing her face. Her dark hair was swept back into a neat braid, her black pant suit was suitably demure, her eyes were framed by bookish glasses. While the registrar read the details of Gupta's murder back in 1982, of how he had left for school that snowy winter morning wearing a red and white tuque and an orange scarf, but never arrived, of how his body was dumped face down in the snow on a dead-end street in north Scarborough, the hood cords from his ski jacket leaving deep indentations around his neck where he'd been strangled, her face remained impassive, her eyes inscrutable as she focused on her lap.
While Rajesh's father, Steve, gently wept in the court.
The little boy called her Auntie. She was his uncle Vijay Gupta's longtime love until his family arranged for another bride. She was left behind while he went to India to marry. She was a Sikh; he was a Hindu. Their families had never approved -- so much so that her own brother in 1980 had stabbed her in the hand over their illicit affair. Pregnant with Gupta's child, jilted and abandoned, she was bent on revenge, the Crown had argued. And the jury had agreed.
Rajesh's body was found on Compass Court, a dead-end rendezvous where, her trial heard, she and Vijay would go to have sex.
A jury convicted her of first-degree murder in February 1984 and sentenced her to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 25 years. The Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal on August 1986. A year later, the Supreme Court of Canada denied her leave to appeal.
She still maintains her innocence and plans to apply directly to the minister of justice.
Life, though, has gone on for Chaudhary. In 1982, she met Anees Chaudhary, a friend of her brother, when they were both arrested for different murders and held at the Toronto West Detention Centre, parole officer Michael Kerr told the court yesterday. In 1988, Kingston's Prison for Women gave her permission to write him at Millhaven Institution. They were allowed calls and visits in 1989 and by the end of that year, they were allowed to marry.
Together, they've had three children -- all of whom live with a friend near Sudbury. "Lina Lapointe, the caregiver of her children, will tell you about her (Chaudhary's) commitment to her children," her lawyer, Elizabeth Thomas told the jury's nine men and three women.
Chaudhary also has two older children, a 16-year-old son from her first "arranged" marriage and with whom "she has no real contact"; and a 15-year-old daughter who she can see only four times a year and is under the legal custody of a Kingston family.
Chaudhary's Parole Eligibility Report is filled with glowing notes of her academic accomplishments, her job performances, her wonderful mothering. She's been a guest speaker at Queen's. She lives in a minimum security home called the Isabel McNeil House.
"She is a person who at the present time does deserve the opportunity to go to the parole board and make an application for parole," her lawyer said.
It's been called a get-out-of-jail-free card. But then, that's not really accurate in this case -- Amina Chaudhary has hardly been in jail at all.
Michele can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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