Ottawa Citizen
Friday 9 February 2001

Mother stands behind her daughter, literally

Ron Corbett
The Ottawa Citizen


Wayne Cuddington, The Ottawa Citizen / Teresa Bonacci leaves court yesterday with her mother, Maria, left, and father, Frank, rear. Ms. Bonacci received a two-year conditional sentence and three years' probation.

When Teresa Bonacci stood to hear her sentence for the crime of trying to have her family killed, something happened that has likely never happened before in an Ottawa courtroom.

Afterwards, it was called a mistake, this thing that happened. A misunderstanding. An inadvertent slip. As such, it goes nicely with the rest of this story, which is all about mistakes, and slip-ups, and about family as well, which was part of this last mistake.

For when Teresa Bonacci was called, by name, to stand before Justice Robert Desmarais, she came hesitantly to her feet, and then in a row behind the prisoner's box, just as hesitantly, her mother, Maria Bonacci, also stood.

Only the accused is supposed to stand before a judge while being sentenced, but on this day the Bonaccis -- mother and daughter, victim and accused -- stood together.

The sentencing took quite a few minutes, but Mrs. Bonacci never sat down, even after realizing, she said later, the mistake she had made.

She stood with her head bowed, her eyes closed, a prayer book clutched to her chest, her right hand extended, palm up, and for all the world it looked as if she were the one being sentenced.

But then the Teresa Bonacci story has been a confusing, twisted story from the beginning, with traditional roles inverted, logic rarely found, and why shouldn't the victim stand at the time of sentencing? (Judge Desmarais commented on this in his decision, saying: "It is a rare occasion when the victims are the accused's staunchest supporters.")

In his decision, Judge Desmarais tried to answer some of the riddles that have made this such a confusing case since the day Ms. Bonacci was arrested nearly two years ago.

Riddle No. 1: Was Teresa Bonacci a naive girl who was manipulated into doing something she would not have done without prompting?

Simply put, the judge said no. Teresa Bonacci knew exactly what she was doing.

"She embarked on this ill-conceived plan," he said, "of her own volition." It was, said the judge, "her idea, not Joe Ieradi's, to kill her parents."

Still, Judge Desmarais had few kind words for Mr. Ieradi, the man Ms. Bonacci contacted when she went looking for a hit man, and who eventually turned her in to the police. The judge said with disdain that Mr. Ieradi's "civic duty only surfaced when it was clear there was nothing in it for him."

(The surfacing happened shortly after he was unable to cash the $20,000 in travellers cheques Ms. Bonacci had given him as a downpayment for the murders.)

Riddle No. 2: "Why would a seemingly normal young woman wish to have her family killed?" Judge Desmarais had a simple answer for this one as well: "This was not a normal young woman."

Ms. Bonacci, although she had no criminal record, held a steady job, and even taught Sunday school, suffered from many psychiatric disorders, the judge concluded. They included histrionic disorder, dependent disorder, as well as long-term depression.

As a child, Ms. Bonacci had also suffered physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her parents.

"She sees things in an exaggerated way," said Judge Desmarais, "and has a tendency to be dramatic and overly dependent on others. Ultimately, she needs treatment and counselling."

Which left riddle No. 3: What is an appropriate sentence for a young woman who tried to have her parents, and younger brother, killed?

The answer to that one, it turns out, is time served, a conditional sentence of two years less a day, and three years' probation.

There are some who will find the sentence lenient. What turned into a dark farce, a comedy of errors almost -- a murder contract paid for with signed traveller's cheques; an undercover police office "hired" over lunch at a Harvey's restaurant, Ms. Bonacci giving him an IOU for the money she owed -- could have easily had a different ending. A much more tragic ending.

Others will find the sentence appropriate. Ms. Bonacci, in the words of the probation officer who did her pre-sentencing report, "is an extremely suitable candidate for community disposition." She has, unlike most of the people who come through this courthouse, no previous criminal record, no substance abuse problems and no history of violence.

So, the sentence will be debated, just like the other riddles that made up the Teresa Bonacci story.

The biggest riddle, though, is one that will not be answered for years.

It was left unasked yesterday, although anyone who saw Maria Bonacci standing with her prayer book, her daughter Teresa standing with her back turned as she was sentenced for trying to have her killed, was likely thinking it.

How does any family recover from this?

Ron Corbett can be reached at 596-8813 or by e-mail at rcorbett@thecitizen.southam.ca .

Read previous columns by Ron Corbett at www.ottawacitizen.com .

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.