Friday 8 December 2000
Why did she want family dead?
Teresa Bonacci's attempt to have her family killed reveals troubled woman, court hearsJake Rupert
The Ottawa Citizen
Brandon McVittie, The Ottawa Citizen / Teresa Bonacci, who has pleaded guilty to counselling to commit murder, blew kisses and mouthed the words 'I love you' to her parents at yesterday's sentencing hearing. Ms. Bonacci turned 29 yesterday.
Since February 1999, when the story of a quiet Sunday school teacher, public servant, and part-time university student who contracted a hitman to kill her mother, father and brother, hit the the front pages of newspapers, people have been asking this question.
Why would a 27-year-old woman who lived with her parents, was an active volunteer and gave the impression of happy normalcy, want her family -- Maria, 47, father, Frank, 52, and brother, Luigi, 23, -- dead.
"Unfortunately, sometimes people do things that can't be easily explained," forensic psychiatrist Dr. John Bradford said yesterday at a sentencing hearing for Teresa Bonacci, who has pleaded guilty to counselling to commit murder.
The questions of why she did it and what drove her to do it were partially answered yesterday, but as is often the case with crimes that are incongruous with the people who commit them, the complete answer will likely never be found.
"There is no question that in her family she was a victim of an abusive situation," Dr. Bradford said. "Why did this (crime) occur?"
Many in court yesterday expected evidence that would reveal a cold-hearted woman. They didn't get it.
Instead, they heard evidence suggesting Ms. Bonacci was an emotionally troubled young woman yearning to live a modern life whose desires clashed with her strictly structured patriarchal Italian family.
Ms. Bonacci, 29, was arrested in February 1999 after attempting to hire a hitman to kill her family in what was supposed to look like a home invasion gone bad.
She had even stolen $20,000 from her parents' bank account for the downpayment on the $300,000 job.
However, Guiseppi Ieradi, 47, didn't broker a deal with a hitman as he agreed to. He testified that when he realized Ms. Bonacci was serious about the plot, he called police.
When Ms. Bonacci arrived at a Harvey's restaurant to meet the man she thought would kill her parents and brother, she didn't meet a hitman.
Instead, she met undercover Det. Gordon MacPherson of the Ottawa-Carleton police.
The whole contract killing negotiation was caught on audio tape.
Ms. Bonacci was later arrested and charged with counselling to commit murder and has been in custody since.
During this time, Dr. Bradford did two assessments of Ms. Bonacci. Both times he found she was aware of what she did, what her actions could have resulted in and that what she did was wrong.
Ms. Bonacci wasn't suffering from any mental disorder that would have lifted criminal responsibility for her actions, Dr. Bradford said.
However, he found she was suffering mild forms of at least four disorders that cumulatively would have made her more prone to act the way she did.
He testified Ms. Bonacci suffers from histrionic personality disorder, which makes her see things in an exaggerated way. This state makes her overly dramatic and prone to overreaction, he said.
She also has dependent personality disorder, causing her to rely on others for much of her mental well-being and feelings of self-worth.
She also has a disorder causing mild long-term depression. Finally, she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from two sexual assaults she says she endured, coupled with the emotional and physical abuse she suffered in her family.
At first, Dr. Bradford said he didn't believe Ms. Bonacci's claims of abuse at her family's hands because they denied it to him. However, after her mother called him, met with him and told him the family's history, this changed.
"Her parents have always expressed love and concern for Teresa," he said. "In fact, they accept guilt for things they may have done wrong."
When Ms. Bonacci's defence lawyer, Robert Carew, asked him what role this abuse would have played in her crime, the doctor was blunt.
"It doesn't excuse (her crime), but it makes it more understandable," he said.
He then went on to say Ms. Bonacci's parents are in therapy and that he doesn't think Ms. Bonacci poses a threat to society if released into a controlled environment where she could get counselling and treatment.
The doctor's testimony ended a day of highly charged proceedings that began when the slight, demure woman with deep brown eyes and long raven hair was brought into court wearing a beige cardigan, black pants, black boots and leg shackles. As she was led in, she smiled and mouthed the words "I love you" to her parents.
Then the chilling tape Det. Gordon made of the negotiations to kill her family was played. On the tape, Ms. Bonacci's girlish voice, punctuated by incessant giggling, is impatient. It is clear she wants her family dead. She wants them dead that night. She's willing to pay $300,000 for the job. She wants them dead "for what they have done to me."
Det. MacPherson, a burly, tough-looking man, testified earlier that he went armed to the meeting because he didn't know what a person who wants their family dead was capable of. On the tape, he falters several times, his voice incredulous.
"So of course," Ms. Bonacci says at one point, "if it has to be a break-in, obviously, then I would have to be somewhat injured. I don't want any party ... any other party surviving other than myself."
"What's that?" he asks as they sit in a truck outside the restaurant.
"I don't want any other party to survive," she replies.
She hands him a floor plan of her parents Alta Vista-area home and gave directions to the home. They settle on a time and discussed how the killings should be done.
"You said you wanted them snuffed. How do you want me to do it? I could shoot them, hang them."
"I think beaten should be better."
"Beaten is pretty painful."
"When do you want me to do the job?"
"Tonight would be good."
He finally convinces her shooting would be best. They talk money and she writes an IOU. They settle on a date when he will be paid after she sells the home, which she doesn't want damaged too much during the killings.
Det. MacPherson gives her several opportunities to back out of the contract. But Teresa Bonacci, a woman who sings in the church choir, takes none of them.
After finalizing the contract, Det. MacPherson drives her back to work at Revenue Canada. As she stands at the open door of the truck, he gives her one last out. She doesn't take it.
Hours later, Ms. Bonacci is arrested.
Throughout the tape, Ms. Bonacci's speech is littered with derogatory comments about her family. It's a "whole family of bastards," she says at one point.
As the tape played in the courtroom, Ms. Bonacci's father and mother, who have supported her from the moment she was arrested, sat behind her. Her mother's eyes were closed as she prayed under her breath and rubbed rosary beads. Her father stared straight ahead, a look of pain etched on his face.
Ms. Bonacci sat in the prisoner's box, staring at the floor.
At the end of the tape, court recessed. As she was led out of the courtroom, Ms. Bonacci turned to her parents and mouthed the words, "I love you." They mouthed the same thing back.
When court reconvened, the next evidence was a videotape of Det. Dale Hayes and Det. John Monette interviewing Ms. Bonacci after her arrest.
She starts the interview with her back ramrod straight. But, over the course of almost two hours, she slumps forward until she is on the table weeping.
Ms. Bonacci starts out defiant, saying she doesn't have any idea why she was arrested.
"All I know is my lawyer told me not to say anything," she informs the two major crime detectives.
They say they know what happened. What she planned to do.
Then Det. MacPherson, the "hitman" who has been listening outside the door, comes into the room and throws the gloves Ms. Bonacci had forgotten in his truck on the table.
"Here Teresa," he says. "You forgot these."
She is silent.
The detectives inform her the hitman is really a police officer and the whole thing is on tape. They say they know what she was planning to do. "Look Teresa, the jig is up," Det. Hayes tells her. "We know."
Ms. Bonacci then says she wanted the hitman to help her fake her own death and he must have misunderstood. She has been abused, she tells the detectives. She wanted a fresh start with a new name.
Then she says the hitman must have misunderstood, and she wanted him to rough her family up to teach them a lesson.
"Beaten maybe, but dead? Never," she says.
"You said dead several times," Det. Monette says in a comforting tone. "I heard you myself Teresa."
They keep at it, and she alternates between the fake death story and the beaten story. She tells the detectives she has been emotionally and physically abused all her life. She said her parents treat her like a child and she's a woman. She has a curfew. They call her a slut when she goes out with a man. They slap her. Call her useless.
She says all she wants is to be free, to move out of her parents' home and to have a life. She says she dreams of being a writer, but anything she ever did, her parents discouraged her.
Soon after, still clinging to hope, she says she doesn't "believe" she asked the hitman to kill her family, but it's a half-hearted attempt to maintain her innocence.
Hunched on the table, she asks if she can go to her parents' house and pick up her things. She asks if her parents will get the money back she stole from them to pay for their killings. She is relieved when the detectives say they will.
The last of the interview is very conciliatory. In the end, they have won her over and she has seemingly won them over too. They tell her to watch out for herself in jail.
"Keep quiet in there," Det. Hayes tells her. "Where you're going, there are bad people. We've dealt with bad people. You're not one of them -- that's what shocked us. Teresa, I didn't like you nine hours ago, but I like you now."
"You know, that's all I wish my mom would say to me -- she likes me."
Closing arguments will be made by Mr. Carew and assistant Crown attorney Donna Eastwood this morning.
Excerpts From Tape
The following is a partial transcript entered in court yesterday of Teresa Bonacci talking to Ottawa-Carleton Det. Gordon MacPherson, who was acting as an undercover hitman.
Det. Gordon MacPherson: OK. What all is it you want ... want done?
Teresa Bonacci: Yeah.
TB: Didn't he tell you?
GM: Well, part. But the less involved, the better.
GM: How many is there?
TB: OK. There's three.
TB: Yeah. One has to be injured though. I have to be injured. There's four of us really. It's in the layout here. OK?
GM: OK. This is uh...
TB: There's two here.
GM: This is uh...
GM: ...a description of the house?
TB: Yeah. OK. And there's two here.
GM: Yeah. You live at home?
TB: Yeah. And that's ... that's mine.
TB: OK. So of course if it has to be a break-in obviously, then I would have to be somewhat injured. I don't want any party ... any other party surviving other than myself.
GM: What's that?
TB: I don't want any other party to survive.
GM: So you want them all...
GM: ...snuffed and that's it?
TB: Yeah. Yeah. Take whatever you want.
GM: Any uh ... any way? Well, how would you like it?
TB: I don't care. Just do it.
GM: I know but...
TB: Make ... make it convincing, as if it was a break-in.
TB: The first floor here. So that's all there is.
GM: That's all basement?
TB: Yeah. That's all there is.
GM: That's your room?
GM: That's your brother's room? How old is your brother?
GM: How old are your parents?
TB: My ... mom is 48. Dad's 50. And it's a whole family of bastards.
Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.