Back where you belong, to continue serving a life sentence. Can’t reapply for parole until 2020. He’ll be 56 then.
It took less than half an hour of deliberation before the two commissioners returned with their verdict.
“Mr. Bernardo, the board denies you full and day parole,” intoned Suzanne Poirier, who’d led the questioning over a period of two hours.
It was never in doubt, really. But strange happenings for convicted murderers in recent weeks held out just that filament of possibility.
The maximum-security inmate — Bernardo spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement — saw his slim hopes for liberty, however restrictive, blunted against the anvil of harrowing victim impact statements: Donna French, mother of slain 15-year-old Kristen, dumped naked in a ditch; Debbie Mahaffy, mother of slain 14-year-old Leslie, dismembered, her body parts encased in cement and thrown into a lake; “Jennifer,” jumped from behind, dragged into the bushes and raped, one from among more than a dozen young women, some no more than girls, who were sexually assaulted by Bernardo before he became a killer. She spoke for herself.
But Bernardo wants his life back. Except he can’t get there from here, designated as a dangerous offender — indeterminate sentence, beyond life — and required to show, at minimum, that he’s a changed man who poses no risk to the public.
“I’m devastated by what I did in the past. I feel dreadful. I cry all the time.”
Not so devastated, though, that until just three years ago he had no interest in partaking of sexual offender therapy. Not so devastated, in 2014, when he engaged in an intense five-week courtship with a female admirer, which re-kindled all the deviancy of the younger Paul; his obsession with controlling and demeaning, his fixation on anal sex as an antidote for sexual performance inadequacy and anxiety. So he became a masturbating machine, which alarmed his treating psychiatrist.
It wasn’t at all clear, actually, if the sex acts Bernardo described yesterday were mere fantasy or real. A Corrections official later told reporters that Bernardo’s “privacy rights” precluded him from revealing whether the felon has enjoyed conjugal rights at Millhaven Penitentiary. “There are definitely prisoners serving life sentences who have private family visits,” said Wayne Buller. “Risk factors are taken into consideration.”
More likely, though, that Bernardo was living inside his head, describing his erotic inclinations to the panel.
“I’ve been in solitary confinement for 25 years. I hardly have any misery with people.”
Bernardo — wearing a blue T-shirt, middle-age paunch spilling over his belly, but hair still thick and facial features preternaturally youthful — spared scarcely a moment for the teenagers he murdered, making their deaths all about him, as though the girls had been little more than props in a play of the macabre unfolding.
“They weren’t supposed to die,” he said of Kristen and Leslie, one abducted off the street in St. Catharines with Homolka the beard, the other lured to her death when Bernardo happened upon her late at night, in a backyard, Leslie locked out of her home to teach her a lesson about house rules.
“The expectation was they were supposed to go home. The plan was they were supposed to go home from the outset.”
The engaged couple, Bernardo and Homolka, kept Kristen’s body in the basement for three days.
Recounting his descent — from masturbating voyeur who trailed pretty girls to pitiless kidnapper, torturer and killer — Bernardo repeatedly landed on what he described as “cognitive distortion,” because he’s learned to speak the shrink lingo.
So, he had sexual compulsions even before Homolka appeared on the scene. The more he acted on them — the rapes — the more enraged he became because the victims wouldn’t comply, wouldn’t do exactly as he demanded. But mostly, this man who tried to avoid straight up and consensual intercourse, who claims he couldn’t stand to be touched, was driven by a lethal desire to debase and dehumanize.
“It was callous disregard. I lacked empathy for the victims. I didn’t enjoy inflicting pain but I didn’t feel for them emotionally.
“There was anger during my offending, no doubt. When my expectations weren’t met, there was rage. I thought they should do what I wanted them to. If they didn’t want to, then I punished them.’’
As Kristen, defiantly, mocked him, court heard a quarter century ago, just before she was killed.
Bernardo: “Because I’m in distress, I should be able to do what I want, with disregard for them.”
A low self-esteem was the genesis, he contends, tracing it back to a physical defect whereby his tongue was fused to the floor of his mouth, a condition which prevented him from speaking until surgery at age seven. A nice boy, he insists, quiet and shy, a Boy Scout, who got bullied at school as he grew up.
“I felt inadequate in all areas of my life and always have. I had to dominate in sexual acts. It was the only way I could perform.”
Perform is not a synonym for rape and defilement.
Really, it sounded in the telling more like insatiable sexual obsession and dysfunction — as those of us who watched in court, 25 years ago, his frustrated sex sessions with Homolka can attest.
“For me it was about power and control. My ability to go pout and get what I wanted from a female, to boost my insecurity.
“When I offended I had justification. At the time of the offences, I was concerned about my own distress, I was focused on solving my own problems.’’
As, indeed, he wrote in a lengthy narrative, a “self-published” book, undertaken a decade ago at a psychiatrist’s suggestion: “I do not care about them.”
The dead girls, The raped girls.
“I offended to raise my self-esteem. It was their fault, blaming the victims. Part of justification is denial. Denying even to myself the extent of the harm. … When I was incarcerated, I was degraded, humiliated, I became defensive. I had my guard up. I’ve been able to drop the defences and to feel remorse.’’
The remorse was certainly professed at the hearing. “I wake up most days and it’s hard for me to believe that I did that. But it’s good for me to admit this to you and to the world — I did this. I’m happy to feel the pain.”
His declaration lacked any ring of truth, though, bouts of weeping notwithstanding.
Except for one thing.
The death of Tammy Homolka, his fiancee’s little sister, drugged and sexually violated by the couple as she lay unconscious. Tammy, who choked to death on her own vomit. Bernardo pleaded guilty to manslaughter and a slew of rapes in 1995, consenting to dangerous offender status.
Was so distressed after the girl’s death — which he and Karla caused — that he twice tried to commit suicide afterwards, Bernardo told the panel.
“Tammy’s death, I was just devastated. I put her in totally jeopardy. I relied on the medical expertise of Homolka. And, I thought … Tammy would never know.
“The kidnappings occurred after Tammy died. That was the escalation, the tipping point.”
But of course, Paul Bernardo says a lot of things, now. What’s left of his wretched life depends on it.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno