Life prison

Williams' tearful plea for forgiveness falls on deaf ears

In the end, the sight of a tearful Russell Williams asking to be forgiven moved no one.

Minutes before being driven to Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario where he will likely spend the rest of his days, Williams surprised the packed courtroom by accepting Justice Robert Scott's invitation to speak — a pre-sentencing formality convicted criminals regularly decline.

The serial killer spent had most of his previous three days in court sitting with his head bowed. When he stood Thursday, lawyers, police, news reporters and the public fell silent and were transfixed.

Williams pulled a tissue from his jacket pocket, said nothing for about 20 seconds and then spoke haltingly, stopping to wipe tears from his eyes.

"Your Honour, I stand before you, Your Honour, indescribably ashamed," he said.

"I know that the crimes I've committed have traumatized many people. The families and friends of Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd, in particular, have suffered and continue to suffer profound, desperate pain and sorrow as a result of what I've done."

The 47-year-old former commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton pleaded guilty this week to two murders, two sexual assaults and more than 80 counts of break, enter and thefts of women's lingerie.

On Thursday, he referred to the series of emotion-packed victim-impact statements read in court Wednesday by the family and friends of Jessica Lloyd, his second murder victim.

"The understandable hatred that was expressed yesterday and that has been palpable throughout the week, has me recognize that most will find it impossible to accept. But the fact is, I very deeply regret what I have done and the harm I know I have caused so many.

"My very sincere hope is that my detailed confession on the night of Feb. 7, my full co-operation with investigators since, and ultimately my guilty plea earlier this week has, in some, way served to temper the very serious harm I have caused my victims and their families and friends."

"Go join your friend, Paul Bernardo," murmured a man on the public benches.

Like Bernardo and Canada's other notorious serial killers, Clifford Olson and Robert Pickton, Williams will spend his sentence isolated in a cell from other prisoners, for his own protection, and will be allowed the standard 30 minutes outdoor exercise each day.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, forgiveness was in short supply.

"It was good that he said that, I was glad that he did," said Lloyd's mother, Roxanne. "I'm glad it's over."

Jessica's brother, Andrew, said he was surprised when Williams spoke but was not impressed by what he said.

"I don't think that man can show any emotion," he said. "So long as he dies in jail, I'm happy. It's the best thing that's happened to our family since this stuff happened. We want to get back to our normal lives and be normal again."

Ontario Provincial Police Det. Insp. Chris Nicholas, who led the investigation into the murders of Lloyd and Comeau, said he had been deeply moved by the victim-impact statements but Williams apology left him cold.

"I had a hard time fighting back the tears yesterday," he said. "I didn't feel that same emotion today. Yesterday I felt extremely sorry for the victims; I don't feel extremely sorry for Mr. Williams. It was an apology and people can judge for themselves how sincere it was. I really have no reaction to his apology. I'm just glad he pleaded guilty."

Crown Attorney Lee Burgess, who had delivered an impassioned statement to the court before Williams spoke, was similarly skeptical.

"I don't know what his remorse level really is," said Burgess. "I don't think we'll ever know that for sure."

People on the public benches applauded after Burgess spoke on behalf of Williams' victims, his words dripping with contempt for the killer.

"David Russell Williams is quite simply one of the worst offenders ever in Canadian history," he told the court. "He is one of a handful of despicable, heinous, self-centred individuals who terrorized victims, and killed some of their victims, without a shred of remorse."

His voice cracking with emotion, Burgess lambasted Williams for leaving a legacy of fear in the Tweed and Belleville areas and for betraying his community and the men and women of the military.

"The armed forces appointed him a colonel and the head of the country's largest air force base," said the prosecutor. "And no doubt he exploited that to help divert suspicion from himself. And no doubt he laughed at us as he lived the life of the great community leader by day and that of a serial criminal at night."

In powerful examples of those contrasting personalities, Burgess continued:

"On Sept. 17 (2009) he sexually assaulted (name withheld). He then entered her home the next night. On the following night, Sept. 19., he dropped the puck at the Belleville Bulls game . . . this was the game where they were dedicating their season to the armed forces. Mr. Williams was a symbol of those forces.

"Fast forward a little bit. On Nov. 24, he confined, raped and murdered Marie-France Comeau, a member of the military under his command — or in his words to Det. Sgt. (Jim) Smyth 'one of my own.'

"A few weeks later, in December, he is honoured to carry the Olympic Torch, again as the base commander and representative of the forces. And the people of the base, and the people of the community, cheered him on.

"On Jan. 5 this year, he attended in the Ontario Court, not as an accused but at the swearing-in ceremony of the new deputy chief of police. And he milled about and spoke with the police officers and other dignitaries . . . a mere 24 hours after that swearing-in, he abducts and murders Jessica Lloyd."

Williams' lawyer Michael Edelson acknowledged the severity of the crimes and the agony Williams has inflicted upon the Lloyd and Comeau families.

"Their pain is incalculable and really beyond our comprehension," he said.

Edelson said it is rare for anyone accused of first-degree murder to plead guilty and said Williams had done so to speed passage of the case and spare families of his victims more suffering.

Williams had also co-operated fully with police and admitted to crimes that had not even been reported to police.

"His confession was extremely detailed and led to the recovery of virtually all of the electronics and much of the physical evidence that has been placed before the court during the preceding three days," said Edelson. "As a result of his interview with the police, the authorities were able to lay 82 counts of break and enter, relating to 48 victims. However, it is important to know that only 17 of the 48 homeowners had reported to the police that their homes had been broken into. The Belleville and the Ottawa Police Services thoroughly investigated 17 homes that were the subject of the break and enter offences, and until he confessed, they were unable to identify a suspect."

Aside from two murder sentences of 25 years without the possibility of parole, the judge also ordered Williams to serve 10 years each for his sexual assaults of two women and one year for each of 82 break-ins. The sentences will be served concurrently.

Williams was also fined $8,800 — a standard $100 "victim surcharge" for each of the 88 offences with which he was charged. The money goes into a provincial fund to aid victims of crime.

Williams began his sex crimes in the fall of 2007 with dozens of break-ins and underwear thefts in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans where he and his wife then lived.

The judge said Williams appeared sincere in his apology but said the killer, while not insane, is a "sick and dangerous" man.

"Russell Williams will forever be remembered as a sado-sexual serial killer," Scott told the court.

"The depths of the depravity shown by Russell Williams have no equal."

(Published by Vancouver Sun - October 21, 2010)

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