Six years ago today was my wedding day. Everything in my life was coming together: I was 30 years old, I had a job I loved as a high school guidance counsellor, and I was marrying a man who was my perfect match. We had already shared 2½ years together, and a new chapter was about to unfold. People sometimes wonder how I didn't see any signs of the brutality that was to come, but the fact is that there were no signs. I couldn't have known.
A month after my wedding day, I was attending a conference in Toronto, away from my husband and our Peterborough, Ont., home, when a police officer came to my hotel room door. He told me my husband had been arrested the night before, charged with the sexual assault and kidnapping of two women. My shock was instantaneous and overwhelming. There must be some mistake! Then the officer told me that Jason had turned himself in to the police, so I knew there had been no mistake. I was devastated.
I met Jason Staples early in 2003 while volunteering at a restaurant for low-income patrons, where he was the assistant co-ordinator and chef. He was loved and respected by staff, clients and volunteers alike. We took an immediate interest in one another, and he soon asked me out. On our first date he told me he was on parole with a life sentence.
In 1988, a few months after his 18th birthday, Jason had killed his roommate.
He had just dropped out of high school, and she was 20 years older than him. The two had developed a sexual relationship. One night, after a heated argument, Jason lost control and killed her. Corrections experts later chalked his crime up to “adolescent rage.” He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and served 10 years in prison. He was released in 1998 in Kingston, where for five years he had lived as a model citizen.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This was a handsome, intelligent, gentle man in front of me, not what I imagined when I thought of a “murderer.” His remorse was palpable and I found my heart going out to him just as it did for his victim. I worked with teenagers at the time, many of them troubled. I had seen firsthand how easy it was for a young person to make terrible mistakes. Had Jason not made this disclosure, I would have found myself enjoying a full-fledged crush, looking forward to the next date. But there was nothing carefree in learning about Jason's past. I believed in second chances, but I didn't yet know how much of Jason's second chance I wanted to be, or could be. Before I decided what to do, I needed information.
Jason encouraged me to meet privately with his parole officer and psychologist, and they quelled any concern that Jason would reoffend. They said he was their “best guy.” They believed he was rehabilitated. Official reports and psychiatric assessments echoed their confidence. The focus of the parole board and the Correctional Service of Canada was on Jason's future; he had everything going for him.
It took time for me to accept the unchangeable reality of Jason's past. Eventually, and with the full support of family and close friends, we developed a wonderful, romantic relationship characterized by love, understanding and common goals. We began living together, and moved to Peterborough in 2004 so that Jason could attend art school. We bought a small house and decided to marry.
But everything changed on that November morning, with the police at my hotel-room door. I was faced with the devastating proof that something was still very wrong with Jason. The sexual nature of the new offences made my stomach churn. The officer disclosed only scant details, telling me Jason had sexually assaulted two women in the store where he worked, loaded them into a rented van and then kept them in our basement for hours before finally calling 9-1-1 to tell the police to come and rescue them. I pictured their ordeal – a woman's worst nightmare. Questions about the victims flooded my mind: Who were they? Were they going to be okay? Thinking of Jason, my mind screamed, What happened? How could you do this? My heart was breaking.
At the Peterborough police station, I was questioned by an officer on every detail of my life with Jason. Over the almost two-hour interrogation, I got the distinct impression that the officer was looking for signs that I was weak, delusional, manipulated or abused – and maybe even an accomplice. It was an attitude I would be forced to confront often in the weeks following Jason's crimes. We all want to feel safe and in control of our lives, but the reality is there are no guarantees. In the aftermath of his crimes, I lost many friends and colleagues. Some accused me of putting them in danger and believed I should have seen Jason's violence coming.