Serial rapist and killer Paul Bernardo pleaded unsuccessfully for a second chance on Wednesday, arguing low self-esteem drove him to commit the sexually twisted crimes he now rues and that he no longer poses any threat to the public.
Bernardo made his pitch for parole before a two-member panel, which also heard impassioned pleas from the parents of two of his murder victims that he be kept behind bars.
“I’m a very flawed person. I know I’m not perfect,” Bernardo told the Parole Board of Canada panel. “What I did was so dreadful. I hurt a lot of people. I cry all the time.”
At the same time, the now 54-year-old Bernardo was adamant he has never been violent since his arrest, and would never reoffend if released.
“I’m so nice to everybody,” he said. “Everybody is scared but there is no reason to be scared.”
The panel did not buy his arguments. They took about 30 minutes to turn Bernardo down for both day and full parole. Their written reasons are expected in a few weeks.
Dubbed the “Scarborough Rapist,” Bernardo could make another bid for release in two years. He has already spent 25 years of his life sentence in prison – most in solitary.
Bernardo was convicted in 1995 of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault among other offences. His crimes over several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, some of which he videotaped, had sparked widespread terror and revulsion.
Among his brutal acts, Bernardo and his then-wife Karla Homolka kidnapped, tortured and killed Leslie Mahaffy, 14, of Burlington, Ont., in June 1991 at their home in Port Dalhousie, Ont., before dismembering her body, encasing her remains in cement and dumping them in a nearby lake.
In her victim impact statement, Debbie Mahaffy said choosing to participate in the hearing has not been cathartic, rather it is the opposite. “This is an emotional hell for us.”
“Preparing for this parole hearing has been gut wrenching for our family. We have to relive Leslie’s pain and horror – our pain and horror, as if it happened yesterday. It is a nightmare,” she writes.
Mahaffy says the hearing rips apart all the healing they have worked so hard for over the last quarter century. She adds that she doesn’t want to be here, doesn’t want to be in the same room or have her presence or comments “add to Bernardo’s entertainment as surely this process will.”
“The effect of this parole hearing allows Bernardo to abduct our beautiful memories of Leslie as he has inserted himself and the ugliness of her death into our lives yet again.”
Members of the media and other observers watched the highly anticipated proceeding – Bernardo’s first attempt at parole – via videolink from nearby Bath Institution.
Bernardo, dressed in a blue T-shirt, slouched in his chair and listened with little obvious emotion, although he became animated on occasion as he answered questions. At one point, he dabbed at his eyes with a hastily proffered tissue while talking about his father.
While his parole officer said Bernardo had made minimal gains during his time behind bars, the lifer portrayed himself as someone whose self-esteem was damaged as a child by a speech impediment. He said he felt increasingly inadequate, adding he was afraid to interact with people.
Social anxiety, he said, became sexual – he fretted constantly about being unable to perform.
“The more insecure I felt, the more I tried to control,” he said. “My self-esteem would get better that way.”
Bernardo also tortured and killed Kristen French, 15, of St. Catharines, Ont., in April 1992 after keeping her captive for three days. Kristen’s mother, Donna French, argued Bernardo should never see freedom again.
“How does one describe such immeasurable pain so as to give even the slightest understanding of the overwhelming sadness, the emptiness, and pain we feel even after 26 years of dealing with our loss?” French said.
In her victim impact statement, Donna French said Bernardo should not benefit because of the timing of his murders.
“Bernardo has never accepted responsibility for his sadistic and unspeakable criminal behaviour. He has never expressed any remorse,” writes French. “Any suggestion to the contrary by Bernardo is self-serving, disingenuous and done as part of a performance to manipulate the system for parole purposes.”
Both impact statements end by quoting Chief Justic Patrick LeSage, who presided over Bernardo’s trial: “You [Bernardo] require [jail][and] in my view, for the rest of your natural life.”
Bernardo, who ultimately admitted raping 14 other women, was also convicted of manslaughter in the December 1990 death of Homolka’s younger sister, Tammy. The 15-year-old girl died after the pair drugged and sexually assaulted her.
Homolka, who served 12 years until 2005 after pleading guilty to manslaughter, later said she wanted Bernardo to have Tammy’s virginity as a Christmas present.
Tammy’s death left him shattered, exacerbated his low self-esteem, and led to his increasingly savage attacks on women and girls, Bernardo said.
“I hurt a lot of people,” he said. “I absolutely did and this is why I cry.”
“Would you say you used women as objects?” Suzanne Poirier, one of the two parole board members hearing the case, asked him at one point.
“Back then, absolutely,” he responded.
At times, Bernardo rambled as he responded to board questions. At other times, he displayed a keen grasp of psychiatric terminology. He denied being a psychopath, although he admitted he felt nothing for his victims at the time.
He was more concerned with his own feelings, he said, and that meant asserting power and control to give his fragile ego a boost. He no longer needs to do that or can control his urges, he said.
Tim Danson, a lawyer who speaks for the French and Mahaffy families, said Bernardo is indeed a psychopath incapable of empathy. Nor has the inmate ever really apologized to the families for his crimes, Danson said.
One of Bernardo’s surviving victims described how she was walking home on an evening in May 1988 when he attacked her from behind, dragged her into bushes and raped her. The result has been emotional devastation from which she has never recovered, she said.
“I really became a shell of a person,” she said. “He should never be considered for any freedom for the rest of his life.”
Bernardo’s lawyer, Fergus (Chip) O’Connor, maintained his client has aged into a low-risk demographic when it comes to sexual offences. While the perspective of victims must be heard, he said their views could not be determinative.
Bernardo’s parents, who didn’t attend the hearing, visit him in prison and have offered help if he is released, O’Connor added.
Parole officer Meagan Smith told the hearing that Bernardo had “low integration potential.” Though low risk for violence in general, his risk increases when it comes to intimate partners, she said.
Read the complete victim impact statements made by Debbie Mahaffy and Donna French below:
Tim Danson, the lawyer for the families of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, spoke to the media on their behalf following the parole board’s decision. Watch below.