Friday 9 February 2001
Hit-man plot nets house arrest
Two-year conditional sentence for BonacciJake Rupert
The Ottawa Citizen
Just under two years after being arrested for hiring a hit man to kill her father, her mother and her brother, Teresa Bonacci walked away from the Elgin Street courthouse yesterday with her mother hugging her.
She had been in jail since her arrest on charges of counselling to murder.
Justice Robert Desmarais let her go with a two-year conditional sentence, which allows her to serve her time in the community under house arrest.
It was what Ms. Bonacci and her family wanted so they could continue to right the wrongs that led the 29-year-old Sunday school teacher and government employee to negotiate a contract for their killings.
Since her arrest, Ms. Bonacci, who suffers from mild forms of at least four mental disorders, and her family have taken a hard look at their problems and reconciled.
At the wheel of the car that took Ms. Bonacci away from the courthouse was her father, Frank. In the back seat, she and her mother Maria embraced.
"I'm just happy to be home with my family," said Ms. Bonacci, surrounded by cameras.
Ms. Bonacci will start her conditional sentence at St. Felix house in Hammond, a group home just east of Ottawa. She is allowed to leave only for psychiatric treatment, work, school and emergencies.
She may stop living at the group home only if her sentence supervisor allows it. She must also do everything ordered by psychiatrist Dr. John Bradford, and perform 180 hours of community service.
After the two years of confinement, she will be on probation for three years, with the requirement she continue psychiatric treatment.
After Ms. Bonacci pleaded guilty in September, assistant Crown attorney Donna Eastwood asked Judge Desmarais to sentence Ms. Bonacci to 21/2 years in prison on top of the time she had already served.
Ms. Bonacci's lawyer Robert Carew had asked the judge for a conditional sentence.
Judge Desmarais said the interests of society and of Ms. Bonacci would be met with a conditional sentence.
This was far from a foregone conclusion.
In a packed courtroom, Ms. Bonacci sat shackled in the prisoner's box. Her parents sat directly behind her, where they have been for every court appearance she's made. Both the accused and her mother sat with eyes closed tightly.
As it became clear she was going to be released, both mother's and daughter's eyes opened and relief spread across their faces as the judge explained his reasons for the conditional sentence:
She has support from her family and community; she has shown remorse and taken responsibility for her actions; a pre-sentence report found her "extremely" suited to a community sentence; Dr. Bradford found she was not a danger to the public; she's a low-risk to reoffend; and her chances of rehabilitation are excellent.
The judge also emphasized that for Ms. Bonacci to get better, she needs help.
"Ms. Bonacci requires treatment and counselling that she is not presently getting," he said. "It is a rare occasion that the victims are also the accused's strongest supporters."
Judge Desmarais said success is not just Ms. Bonacci's responsibility. Her family, too, must continue counselling to avoid igniting the family dysfunction that convinced Ms. Bonacci that the only way out was to kill them.
After warning Ms. Bonacci that breaking the conditions of her sentence would mean serving the rest of her time in jail, he gave her encouragement.
"Ms. Bonacci," he said as she stood before him, "you now have the opportunity to redeem yourself. I wish you luck."
As she was led out of court one last time, she looked at her parents, who have visited her twice weekly in jail, and smiled. Her parents smiled back, even though two years ago she wanted them dead.
This turn of events was made possible by Guiseppi Ieradi, 47.
Ms. Bonacci thought Mr. Ieradi would help her with a murder contract. Instead, he tipped off police because he thought it would help him with criminal charges he was facing.
Ms. Bonacci was arrested in February 1999 after Mr. Ieradi brokered a deal for a hired killer to 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.
Mr. Ieradi testified that when he realized Ms. Bonacci was serious about the plot, he called police, who set up a sting.
On Feb. 24, 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 police instead.
He was wearing a wire and her words were caught on tape.
In court, the tape made it clear that Ms. Bonacci, with a girlish voice, punctuated by giggles, was impatient. She wanted her family dead and was willing to pay $300,000 for the job. She wanted them dead "for what they have done to me."
On the tape, Det. MacPherson plays his part well, but he falters several times, incredulous about her directions.
She 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.
As the tape rolls, she hands him a hand-drawn floor plan of her parents' Alta Vista-area home. She gives directions to the home. They settle on a time. They discuss 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," he says.
"I think beaten should be better," she replies.
"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. She writes an IOU and signs it. They settle on a date when he will be paid after she sells the home, which she doesn't want damaged so badly she can't sell it.
Det. MacPherson gives her several opportunities to back out. But Teresa Bonacci, a woman who sings in the church choir, takes none of them. It is clear Ms. Bonacci wants her mother, Maria, 47, father, Frank, 52, and brother, Luigi, 23, dead -- that night.
Hours later, she is arrested.
That night, during a police interview that was videotaped and played in court, Ms. Bonacci's explanations of innocence slowly slip away until she admits the raw truth: She is a woman who felt so controlled by her parents that she plotted to have her family murdered.
Why she wanted them dead has never emerged in court. The motive wasn't money. Testimony at her sentencing hearing suggested a mix of societal, familial and psychiatric factors.
Court heard Ms. Bonacci was an emotionally troubled young woman yearning to live a modern life, whose desires clashed with her strict, patriarchal family.
During her time in custody, Dr. Bradford did two assessments of Ms. Bonacci. Both times he found she understood what she did, that her actions could have resulted in the murders of her family, and that what she did was wrong.
She wasn't suffering from any mental disorder that would have lifted criminal responsibility from her, Dr. Bradford said.
However, he found mild forms of at least four disorders that, taken together, would have inclined her to act the way she did, more than others might.
Ms. Bonacci suffers from histrionic personality disorder, which causes her to see things in an exaggerated way and to overreact, he said.
She also has dependent personality disorder, in that she relies on others for much of her mental well-being and feelings of self-worth. She has long-term, mild depression.
Finally, she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from two sexual assaults and the emotional and physical abuse she suffered in her family.
Testifying at her sentencing, Dr. Bradford said at first he didn't believe Ms. Bonacci's claims of abuse at her family's hands, because they denied it.
However, after her mother called him, met with him, and told him the family's history, this changed.
During the police interview, Ms. Bonacci said her family treated her like a child. She was slapped and spanked, even into adulthood. She has a curfew. They call her a slut when she goes out with a man. They call her useless and stupid for not succeeding in university.
Her brother wasn't treated this way and enjoyed many freedoms.
She said it was resentment and feelings that she was unable to escape the situation that drove her to plot murder. She said she felt there was no other way.
At her sentencing, Ms. Bonacci admitted the error of her ways. In letters filed with the court, her parents said they also saw their mistakes. All said a community sentence would be the best way to put their lives back together -- together.
After Judge Desmarais gave them what they wanted, her mother said it's now time to be a family again.
"I just want to say my child is coming back to me. Praise the Lord," Maria Bonacci said.
"We're so blessed. It's time to heal. Healing is important. An open wound can only stay open for so long."
Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.