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Torture tapes left lawyer traumatized Add to ...

A lawyer who has spent seven years in social purgatory for hiding videotapes depicting the rape and torture of two girls yesterday described his lonely agony as he watched the tapes in horror and came to believe it was Karla Homolka -- not Paul Bernardo -- who killed the victims.

Lawyer Ken Murray said he was appalled by the look of "feral joy" on Ms. Homolka's face as she actively engaged in the molestation and torture of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14. Mr. Murray said her ability to prey on victims quickly earned Ms. Homolka the nickname "the black widow" among the Bernardo defence team.

Testifying at his trial for obstructing justice by concealing the tapes for 17 months, Mr. Murray said he would happily have handed them over to the Crown much earlier had the lawyers let him cross-examine their star witness, Ms. Homolka.

Instead, Mr. Murray said, the Crown frustrated him at every turn with legal manoeuvres designed to keep Ms. Homolka out of the witness box at pretrial hearings. He said the tactic prevented her from being savaged and shown up as the conniving killer she was.

Upon handing over the videotapes, Mr. Murray said he had intended to propose striking a plea bargain for Mr. Bernardo. He said he had planned to tell the Crown: " 'We have something here to show you how incredible Karla is. We have something that will let you get out of your unconscionable deal.' The tapes would never have had to be played in court. The families would never have had to go through what they went through."

Mr. Murray also testified yesterday that when he and two colleagues pulled the videotapes out of the ceiling of the Bernardo home on May 6, 1993, he had no idea they would show evidence of any crimes. "We felt this was a bonanza for the defence," he said. "We felt that if this was real -- and the police had missed it -- then we had just hit the gold mine. We didn't know what we had, but we knew it was dramatic. We were excited. We were, I suppose, frightened. We couldn't believe it had been overlooked. It was like finding a lottery ticket without checking the numbers -- you know it is going to be good, but you don't know how good."

Weeks later, when he viewed the contents, Mr. Murray said he was traumatized for life.

"They were corrosive," he testified. "They were horrific. I suppose I was in a unique position in that up to that point, I was the only person in the world who had looked at them. No one was there to watch them with. There was no one to whom I could speak about my reactions. It was an exceedingly emotional time."

Mr. Murray said his horror was exacerbated by the fact that he had a daughter the same age as the victims. "There were many, many long nights," Mr. Murray recalled, as his wife watched in the courtroom, occasionally closing her eyes. "There is not a day that went by then -- or now -- that I don't replay them in my head."

"You had opened Pandora's Box?" defence counsel Austin Cooper asked his client. "More like Medusa's -- and the heads kept growing," Mr. Murray replied.

However, Mr. Murray said he felt no legal or moral obligation to hand the tapes over to authorities. "I felt there was an obligation on behalf of my client not to hand them over," he emphasized.

In a day of highly charged testimony, Mr. Murray also told of entire teams of Crown prosecutors fighting among themselves over who would get to prosecute Mr. Bernardo first. At one point, he said, 17 prosecutors had appeared in court on the Bernardo file. "There was no captain," Mr. Murray testified. He described one pretrial meeting in front of a judge during which the prosecutors fought over whether the Scarborough rape charges should take precedence over the murder charges.

"We sat there and watched these two Crown law offices fight for turf," Mr. Murray said. "Nobody seemed to take control. It was a dog's breakfast. We were listening to both sides bickering with each other."

On another occasion, he said senior prosecutors Leo McGuigan, James Treleaven and Casey Hill engaged him in plea-bargaining discussions -- but Mr. McGuigan insisted that Mr. Murray not mention their negotiations to the very prosecutor who was scheduled to prosecute the murder charges: Ray Houlihan.

There was other troubling behaviour by authorities, Mr. Murray said. He recounted an episode after Mr. Bernardo was arrested at which a team of homicide officers failed to videotape his interrogation because somebody forgot to switch the camera on. An audio version of the same interrogation went unaccountably missing for several months, he said, before an officer ostensibly found it in his gym bag.

Mr. Murray adamantly denied allegations yesterday that he was inept and unprepared for the case. He instead painted a portrait of a workaholic defence team that managed to ride the crest of a wave of tens of thousands of documents flooding into his office from the police and Crown.

Mr. Bernardo was charged with the murders on May 18, 1993, three weeks after a police search failed to turn up the videotapes and shortly after Ms. Homolka agreed to testify against her former husband in return for a 12-year manslaughter sentence.

Mr. Murray said that from the day he met his notorious client, Mr. Bernardo was all over the map about how he wanted himself defended, yet he was startlingly consistent about admitting to have abducted, confined and raped the Southern Ontario teenagers.

"His position was that the tapes showed him at an all-time low, and that he was guilty of most of the offences," Mr. Murray said. "He said: 'I'm probably going to jail for the rest of my life, but I did not kill those girls.' His position was: 'She should have been charged along with me. She was the killer, in the true sense. I did all the stuff I recorded, but I didn't commit the ultimate act. I'm never getting out of here, but she's out.' He wanted, in some sense, to be vindicated."

What he saw on the tapes convinced him Mr. Bernardo could be telling the truth, Mr. Murray said. He said the Karla Homolka leering out from the videotapes was far from the self-described, cringing, battered spouse who had been forced to help her husband feed his sadistic impulses.

He said other videotapes showed Ms. Homolka to be a self-confident, happily married woman who loved her husband as much as she loved being sexually serviced by female hookers or masturbating for the videocamera.

"I saw somebody who could be shown as a complete liar," Mr. Murray said. "This wasn't a lady who had been subjugated. She was happy, compliant, suggestive and willing. In my view, the tapes showed Karla as being often the initiator; often the person in control . . . Nothing on the tapes struck me that she was being dominated or coerced. In fact, there were times that Mr. Bernardo's actions appeared to be scripted -- and it was she who was holding the camera."

Mr. Murray described himself as a well connected former prosecutor who enjoyed defending just about any accused criminal who walked into his suburban office. He said the Bernardo case came to him through Mr. Bernardo's brother and father, who were directed to Mr. Murray by a pair of private detectives he knew.

Nervous in the early going yesterday, the 51-year-old lawyer soon adopted a composed and easygoing testimonial style. Mr. Murray appeared determined not to criticize any of the lawyers in the case who have cast aspersions on him, and instead complimented their skills and delicately pointed out what he perceived as shortcomings in their analysis of events.

Mr. Murray was gentle even with the prosecutors he faced, mildly expressing his frustration as they yanked away Mr. Bernardo's right to preliminary inquiries -- first in the Scarborough rape charges facing him, then in the murder charges, and even in relation to a charge of domestic assault alleging he had beaten Ms. Homolka.

Mr. Murray said he viewed each of those venues as an opportunity to "set up" Ms. Homolka, allowing her to rhyme off her self-serving account of events and then smacking her between the eyes with the videotapes.

"We would have had solid evidence, under oath, of her lies," Mr. Murray said. "It all went up in smoke. We never got a chance to set her up."

In describing the day he found the videotapes at the couple's Port Dalhousie home, Mr. Murray emphasized how incidental the discovery was to the actual intent of the visit. He said he went to the home with colleagues Kim Doyle and Carolyn MacDonald in order to cart away huge amounts of personal effects in the hope of keeping it out of he hands of ghoulish souvenir hunters as well as finding valuable evidence for the defence.

Minutes before arriving at the house, Mr. Murray said, he happened to find a letter in his briefcase that Mr. Bernardo had written days earlier. On the envelope, it instructed Mr. Murray not to open it until he was actually in the house.

When he did so, Mr. Murray found instructions on where to locate a potlight above which Mr. Bernardo had hidden some videotapes. Mr. Murray said he found them easily.

Mr. Murray said they later delivered a pre-arranged code phrase over the phone to Mr. Bernardo to let him know that the tapes he wanted had been found.

Mr. Murray testified that it would have made no sense for him not to have taken the tapes immediately. "I could have gone back there . . . but the house could have been razed or torn down and the evidence lost forever. How do I explain that to the client? 'Your defence is under 20 feet of earth?'

"My client could quite easily indicate that his defence had been prejudiced by my incompetence. Because of my unwillingness to follow his instructions, the evidence is gone forever."

John Rosen, the lawyer who ultimately defended Mr. Bernardo at his 1995 trial, testified last week for the Crown that Mr. Murray handed over a case that was in disarray. He said Mr. Murray described himself as inept and incapable of continuing to trial.

Yesterday, Mr. Murray said that his colleague appears to have been unaware of enormous volumes of meticulously filed case material, correspondence with the Crown and tentative lines of questioning for Ms. Homolka.

The only party that was reeling in disorganization was the Crown, Mr. Murray said. "Disclosure was still not completed by the time I left the file on Sept. 12, 1994," he said. "There were still outstanding issues that had not been disclosed."

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