Karla Homolka lives life of
birthday cakes and baseball in
“adult daycare,” ex-inmate says
By PAUL CHERRY
(from National Post,
September 22, 2000)
Another article -- “The Case Against Karla” -- Elm Street Magazine
MONTREAL -- It is difficult to imagine, but there they are: three women involved in some of the most notorious crimes in recent Canadian history, seated before a birthday cake, ready for a party in prison.
The three -- Karla Homolka, 29, Canada's most infamous female convict, and Tracy Gonzales, 22, and Christina Sherry, 22, sentenced to prison for their role in a Montreal rape and torture case are together in a photograph taken at a birthday party in the Joliette Institution, 70 kilometres northeast of Montreal.
Homolka is at Joliette serving a 12-year sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter for her role in the 1991 and 1992 tortures and slayings of teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. The sentence was the result of a plea bargain that saw Homolka, who aided her then-husband Paul Bernardo in the crimes, agree to testify against him.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear Bernardo's application to appeal his first-degree murder conviction.
Tony Bryant, his lawyer, had argued Bernardo deserved a new trial because the judge made mistakes.
For example, Mr. Bryant claimed the jury was not properly instructed that the plea bargain Homolka made with the Crown did not automatically mean she could not have been the killer.
Bernardo blames the murders on Homolka, who appears on videotapes as a willing participant in violent sexual attacks on the girls.
The photographs of Homolka -- whose image was rarely captured after her 1993 arrest - indicate a degree of informality, freedom and comfort at the Joliette Institution, a minimum- and medium-security federal prison that opened three years ago and offers inmates a degree of independence to prepare them for life after release.
Homolka will be eligible for release next July, after serving two-thirds of her sentence, unless the correctional service applies to have her detained, which would require a written notice by Jan. 5, 2001.
Last year, she was turned down for escorted day passes partly because psychologists determined she had yet to assume responsibility for her crimes.
At the now-closed Prison for Women in Kingston, Ont., a maximum-security prison where she began her sentence, Homolka would have been restricted mostly to her cell. She was transferred from Kingston in 1997.
The photographs, taken in 1998, were provided to <i>The Gazette </i>in Montreal by a former inmate with a lengthy criminal record who was paid a $500 freelance fee for the pictures.
The inmate, who agreed to be interviewed only if she was not named, said life in the Joliette prison is often about birthday cakes and baseball, the aim being rehabilitation. Her information was corroborated by another former inmate.
She described the Joliette prison as an "adult daycare,' especially when compared to the Kingston Prison for Women.
Inmates in Joliette can go for long strolls on the institution's spacious grounds, and can play baseball.
Ten cottages on the prison grounds house eight to 10 inmates each. There are no bars on the windows, and each inmate has a key to her room ahd a key to her personal mailbox. There are guards on the prison grounds.
The woman said Homolka was not initially well-received at Joliette, but has since made some friends.
"When Karla first came to Joliette nobody wanted her in their house," the former inmate said, adding that inmates were warned that if they caused trouble for Homolka they could lose privileges, such as family visits.
"The [penitentiary] staff put up a front for her. They talked about her like she was a dove. Almost everybody there thought she got off easy. There were people there who wanted to punch her real hard in the face."
The Correctional Service of Canada's official profile of the prison says the Joliette Institution "has to meet the specific needs of women offenders." It is able to hold 105 inmates. There is also a block of six cells for inmates with integration problems, and six segregation cells.
One evening, Homolka and Sherry were able to entertain other inmates by modelling black dresses, as if they were heading out for a night on the town.
"They were just prancing around and showing off and modelling," the former inmate said of the evening when a few photos were taken.
There is a camera available to inmates through the recreation comniittee. The camera is shared by all inmates, who are able to send film out to be developed.
The former inmate said such socializing is not unusual in a women's prison, where crimes committed are rarely discussed.
Homolka has been studying either psychology or psychiatry, did all of her course correspondence by mail, was a disciplined student, and earned high grades, the former inmate said.
Bernardo's failed appeal again raised troubling questions about Homolka's sentence. By pleading guilty to manslaughter and testifying against Bernardo, she received the 12-year sentence for manslaughter instead of facing the possibility of a first-degree murder conviction, which carries a life sentence with a minimum of 25 years before parole eligibility.
Homolka's plea bargain was especially criticized after videotapes of the sexual torture of Ms. Mahaffy and Ms. French surfaced at Bemardo's trial.
It was also revealed at the trial that Homolka had drugged her 14-year-old sister, Tammy, and assisted Bernardo in the girl's rape. The teenager died in 1990 of an overdose of drugs the two had administered.
After Bemardo's criminal trial, an Ontario judicial inquiry determined that if the Crown had had the tapes, obtaining the controversial plea-bargain from Homolka would not have been necessary.
"Joliette is pretty much easy-going. It is the easiest time I have ever done," said the former inmate, who has spent time in federal and provincial prisons. "You can take a long stroll on the grounds and not even think you were inside."
Birthdays were often celebrated in a lounge, referred to as a common room, by a group of inmates who were close to Homolka.
Sherry and Gonzales, the other women in the photos, were sentenced to serve five years and eight years respectively for their role in the forcible confinement and rape of teenage girls in Montreal.
In 1995 and 1996, Sherry and Gonzales lured girls to a Montreal apartment where they were tortured, sexually assaulted and forced to be sex slaves to James Medley, 41, who was convicted of the crimes, received a 26-year sentence, and was declared a dangerous offender.
At the time of the photos, Sherry was serving a five-year sentence for kidnapping, forcible confinement, sexual assault and sexual assault causing bodily harm. She has since been released.
Gonzales was sentenced to just under eight years.
An official with Correctional Service of Canada said the federal organization would not comment about Homolka's term at the Joliette prison. Citing Canada's Privacy Act, the official said he would not even talk in general terms on policy about how inmates are able to associate in prison.
Photo 1. Karla Homolka, right, and Christina Sherry take part in a 1998 birthday party at the Joliette Institution. Homolka, 29, is serving a 12-year sentence for manslaughter in the 1991 and 1992 torture and slayings of teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. Sherry, 22, was sentenced to prison for her role in a Montreal rape and torture case.
Photo 2. Christina Sherry, left, who lured girls to a Montreal apartment where they were sexually assaulted, and Karla Homolka entertain other inmates by modelling black dresses.
Photo 3. Karla Homolka relaxes in her room at Joliette prison.
Photo 4. Christina Sherry, left, an unidentified inmate [this is Lynda Verronneau, who had a lesbian relationship with Homolka, the subject of a book titled "In the Shadow of Karla" (available only in French)] and Karla Homolka, who cuddles a cat, are housed in Joliette prison, which was described by an inmate as "pretty much easygoing."
Photo 5. Karla Homolka, left, Christina Sherry and Tracy Gonzales, who was convicted for her role in a Montreal rape and torture case, enjoy a birthday party. Birthdays were often celebrated in the prison lounge.