Saturday 9 December 2000
Bonacci pleads to be released
Woman tells judge she accepts guilt for contracting killingsJake Rupert
The Ottawa Citizen
In courtroom 30 of the Elgin Street courthouse at 12:44 p.m. yesterday, a Sunday school teacher, who hired a hitman to kill her mother, father and brother, rose from her seat in the prisoner's box to beg for her freedom.
Teresa Bonacci was arrested in February 1999 after she made a deal that would have seen a hitman kill her family in what was to look like a home invasion gone bad.
For those who have been following the case of 29-year-old Teresa Bonacci, it was the moment they had been waiting for.
Her family isn't dead. The man she thought would broker the deal for her -- Guiseppi Ieradi, 47 -- tipped off police. As a result, instead of lying lifeless in graves, Ms. Bonacci's parents were in court yesterday.
As she rose to speak, the courtroom went still.
It was the first time Ms. Bonacci has spoken publicly since her arrest in February 1999, just hours after she negotiated the contract killings of her family with an undercover police officer posing as a hitman.
The judge, lawyers, court staff, her family, and spectators alike were entirely focused on the petite, demure woman with deep brown eyes and raven hair cascading loosely down her back.
In a typed statement, Ms. Bonacci, who has never been in trouble with the law before, spoke of the last 21 months she's spent in jail awaiting her fate. She spoke of the self-improvement groups she attended, weekly "humiliating, degrading strip searches," praying to God, and repenting her sins.
She wept as she apologized to her family, with whom she has reconciled, the Italian community, citizen's of Ottawa-Carleton in general, and her church.
Tears running down her cheeks, Ms Bonacci said she accepts guilt for the "mistake" she made, and is working hard to correct her problems.
In closing, she literally pleaded with the judge to free her from jail.
"I beg the courts and your Honourable Justice Desmarais to give me a chance to re-integrate into the community to repair the emotional damage I have caused my family, to earn back the trust I have destroyed, to regain the things I value most that I took for granted -- my family's love, their generosity, their resilience, our heritage and our Christian beliefs and traditions.
"Once again. I thank the courts and your Honourable Justice Desmarais for allowing me the chance to express what I have kept bottled for the past 21 months."
As she spoke, her parents, sitting behind the prisoner box, as has become their custom, held each other tightly.
Ms. Bonacci's statement brought a close to her sentencing hearing. Justice Robert Desmarais reserved his decision until February when he will announce the punishment for a crime that has confounded police, mental health officials, her friends, family and the city in general.
Judge Desmarais' task will be difficult. Through evidence entered in court, a picture of Ms. Bonacci as a kind, loving, dedicated but troubled woman has emerged.
Nevertheless, the consequences of her crime -- counselling to commit murder -- could have been horrendous.
The question of what is an appropriate sentence for Ms. Bonacci was addressed by assistant Crown attorney Donna Eastwood and Ms. Bonacci's defence lawyer Robert Carew in their submissions to the judge yesterday morning.
Ms. Eastwood called Ms. Bonacci's actions in February 1999 "cold and calculated" and questioned her ability to appreciate the gravity of her offence.
"The court ought to be seriously concerned about how much insight she has into her crime," Ms. Eastwood said. "This was planned, deliberate and callous.
"One must not lose sight that three people might be dead if Teresa Bonacci hadn't met up with an undercover police officer. The sentence must reflect society's revulsion to such a crime."
Ms. Eastwood closed her submissions by asking the judge to sentence Ms. Bonacci to 2 1/2 years in prison on top of the 21 months she has already spent in jail.
Mr. Carew's position was much different: time served and probation or a conditional sentence allowing her to serve any jail time essentially under house arrest at a group home, followed by probation.
He said her actions were ill-advised and childish, not cold, and that a close look at Mr. Ieradi's role revealed enabling -- if not encouraging -- behaviour.
"The statements she makes are not consistent with those of a cold-blooded killer," he said. "Nothing more would be achieved by keeping her in jail longer and denying her the treatment suggested by the doctor."
He pointed out she would receive an incredible degree of community support and from her family -- all of whom wrote letters to the judge asking him to free her from jail because it is extremely difficult for them to see her there.
Mr. Carew told the judge -- and entered a letter to prove -- a bed was waiting for Ms. Bonacci at the Villa Maria group home if she is released and staff there are willing to make sure she gets treatment, which was recommended by a forensic psychiatrist who also said she wouldn't be danger to society in a setting such as a group home.
Furthermore, Mr. Carew said the best thing for Ms. Bonacci and society in general is to have her get the psychiatric help she needs -- and she can't get it in prison. He said with probation or a combination conditional sentence and probation, both with directions for her to regularly see a doctor, the courts can have jurisdiction over her for longer than under the sentence the Crown is seeking.
"Further detention is almost like a death sentence for her parents," he said. "It is hurting them emotionally and physically.
"With all the support that there is for her, there is no reason why she can't be released back into the community. She has paid her price for what she has done. She has shown remorse. There's really thing else she can do."
There's really nothing else the system can do now either. After two psychiatric assessments, a large police investigation and several court appearances, the matter rests solely in the hands of the judge.
Ms. Bonacci was arrested in February 1999 after Mr. Ieradi brokered a deal that would have seen a hitman murder 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, Mr. Ieradi hadn't brokered a deal with a hitman. 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 met undercover Det. Gordon MacPherson of the Ottawa-Carleton police. The whole contract killing negotiation was caught on tape.
Afterwards, Ms. Bonacci was arrested and charged and has been in custody since. In September, after having switched defence lawyers four times, Ms. Bonacci pleaded guilty.
Dr. John Bradford, a forensic psychiatrist who assessed Ms. Bonacci twice at the Royal
Ottawa Hospital, took the witness stand during her sentencing hearing to explain his findings.
Dr. Bradford 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 compared to others.
He found she suffers from histrionic personality disorder, which makes her see things in an exaggerated way.
She also has dependent personality disorder, a disorder causing her long-term depression, and 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.
The doctor also said she would need and benefit from the support of her family and community. Ms. Bonacci has plenty of this.
During yesterday's hearing, Mr. Carew filed 12 letters in support of Ms. Bonacci from a range of people and organizations, including one from each member of her family, all ending with pleas to free her from jail so she can get the help she needs.
Her mother, whose feelings that she failed her daughter in life drove her to become suicidal, writes of the chaos the incident has wreaked on her family. She also says the family is certain the doctors are wrong about her daughter not having a serious mental disorder. And she expresses sorrow for her daughter being subjected to the "daily trauma of coping with our personal and cultural beliefs."
"Each day of Teresa's life, she punished herself, and it was felt tenfold by each one of us in the family," Maria Bonacci wrote to Judge Desmarais. "With a broken spirit, scattered thoughts and weak bodies we (I as a mother especially) implore your to show compassion towards Teresa's state of mind and the unity of this small family before making any further painful decisions."
Her brother Luigi's letter was eloquent and direct.
"Jail will not suffice," he wrote. "While incarcerated, Teresa has had very little, if any, medical help that she desperately needs. She needs constant medical attention along with her friends and family to guide her and the community to grow within again."
Since the day of her arrest, her father has maintained he doesn't believe she really wanted her family dead.
"I believe the charges laid by the police are excessive given the family relationship between myself and my daughter. I believe from the bottom of my heart that my daughter did not intend to commit the crime of which she is accused."
In another letter, Father Marcel Brodeur of St. Anthony's Church, Peter Scott, a social worker there, and Angelo Filoso, president of the Italian Canadian Community Centre, pledge assistance to Teresa and her family.
Saro Panuccio, of the Italo-Canadians of Ottawa-Carleton, expresses his support. So does Jack McCarthy, executive director of the Somerset West Community Health Centre where Ms. Bonacci worked her second job.
There are letters from friends, neighbours and even people Ms. Bonacci babysat for. All express their desire to see her freed from jail and pledge to help her in any way they can if she is.
And that's the only remaining question. Will the judge grant her release -- be it a conditional sentence, probation or both? Or will he send Ms. Bonacci to prison for planning the murders of her mother, father and brother?
Yesterday, Judge Desmarais said he will give his decision Feb. 8, then adjourned court.
Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.