News Activist Post #2

by vcaputo94 on March 16, 2017 - 3:27pm

Question 3

   There are obvious characteristics between men and women that play a role within the Canadian criminal justice system when either gender is being tried.  The staple case of the difference between men and women in the justice system is in the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.  This is one of the most well known cases throughout Canada.  For the purpose of this question I will focus the attention on Homolka rather than Bernardo.  

Karla Homolka attracted worldwide media attention when she was convicted of manslaughter following a plea bargain in the 1991 and 1992 rape-murders of two Ontario teenage girls, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, as well as the rape and death of her sister Tammy.  Homolka and Paul Bernardo, her husband and partner in crime, were arrested in 1993. In 1995, Bernardo was convicted of the two teenagers' murders and received life in prison and a dangerous offender designation, the full maximum sentence allowed in Canada. During the 1993 investigation, Homolka stated to investigators that Bernardo had abused her, and that she had been an unwilling accomplice to the murders. As a result, she made a deal with prosecutors for a reduced prison sentence of 12 years in exchange for a guilty plea for manslaughter.  This plea deal is what created a large amount of controversy for those following the events of the trial.  During the Homolka trial, There were certain features of the case that was concerning to the public and those paying close attention to the trials outcome. Very little was known about the roles Homolka and Bernardo played in their actions and the killing of their victims. It seemed that the only case that the Crown had against Paul Bernardo was heavily depended on Homolka's evidence and testimony.  Simply put, in order to secure a conviction against Bernardo, Homolka's story had to be believed.  By casting her as a victim of his predatory behaviour, her responsibility for the crimes that were committed could be diminished and her credibility as a witness preserved.  


I have studied this case many times over the course of my legal career and found it very interesting that it was Karla who was given the plea deal in order to get a full conviction on Bernardo.  Gender issues played a very large role in this.  The fact that she was a women made it easy for her to play the battered wife in the situation and get the courts sympathy towards her.  The fact that Bernardo also was abusive towards her made this easy and believable for the court.  I truly think that even though the courts were attempting to use Homolka's testimony to pin Bernardo they believed that fact that she was pressured into committing the crimes due to Bernardo’s abusive and alpha nature.  Women are believed to be nurturing, caring and compassionate.  Being a serial killer does not exactly make a women out to embody those characteristics.  I believe that the courts were blinded by the fact that women are suppose to convey this certain traits that they assumed she must have been just going along with Bernardo in fear of being killed herself.  This proved to be costly however, when the tapes of the killings were found and released showing Homolka willingly participating in the rapes in killings of the three women.  Having already agreed to and carrying out the plea deal, there was nothing that the courts were able to do.  In the end Bernardo was sentenced to life in prison with no parole and a dangerous offender tag.  Homolka was sentenced to 12 years in prison being released unconditionally in 2005.  One can say that the gender roles played by the two offenders had a critical say in how the trial was played out for two criminals participating in the same crime.