TORONTO — Convicted teen killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo is set for his second parole hearing this month, the Parole Board of Canada announced on Wednesday, dredging yet again heart-cracking memories for his victims' relatives.
The families, implacably opposed to Bernardo's release, have been preparing impact statements for the hearing, tentatively scheduled for June 22, less than three years since his last one.
"It doesn't get any easier, it brings everything back to the families," said lawyer Tim Danson, who represents the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. "It's a gut-wrenching experience for them to try to explain the impact of something as horrific as to what happened to their children."
Bernardo has been serving a life sentence for kidnapping, torturing and killing French and Mahaffy in the early 1990s near St. Catharines, Ont. Now 56, he became eligible for parole more than three years ago but was denied release at a hearing in October 2018.
At the time, he said he cried over what he had done and had worked to improve himself.
"What I did was so dreadful. I hurt a lot of people," Bernardo said. "I cry all the time."
The parole panel, however, said he showed little insight into his crimes, taking just 30 minutes to dismiss his release application.
That Bernardo can apply for release again so soon is something the families have been fighting to see changed. They argue a five-year interval between hearings would be more than appropriate, a point French's mother, Donna French, made in a victim-impact statement she and husband Doug French just submitted to the parole board.
"No sooner does the ink dry in preparing the previous victim-impact statement for Bernardo's first parole hearing, she's now called upon to do a second one," Danson said she told the board.
Bernardo's crimes over several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, some of which he videotaped, sparked widespread terror and revulsion.
Among his brutal acts, he and his then-wife Karla Homolka kidnapped, tortured and killed Mahaffy, 14, of Burlington, Ont., in June 1991 at their home in Port Dalhousie, Ont., before dismembering her body, encasing her remains in cement and dumping them in a nearby lake.
They similarly kidnapped and killed 15-year-old Kristen French in April 1992 after torturing her and ignoring her agonized entreaties over three days.
Dubbed the "Scarborough Rapist," Bernardo was convicted in 1995 of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault among other offences. He is now nearing three decades in prison, most in solitary, although not nearly enough, the families say.
"This every two years is not reasonable and it just tears the families apart," Danson said. "It's as if we were back to the early 1990s and the trial of '95: It's that vivid for all of us that have been involved."
The families have also challenged in court their lack of access to reports or other evidence Bernardo is relying on to make his case for release — even those referred to during his hearing. Unlike in other parts of the justice system, the inmate's privacy interests warrant secrecy, according to the parole board. A Federal Court decision on the case has been under reserve since February.
At his last hearing, Bernardo, incarcerated at Millhaven penitentiary in eastern Ontario, argued low self-esteem drove him to commit the crimes he said he now rued and that he no longer posed any threat to the public.
Both the French and Mahaffy families argue the designated dangerous offender should never be released. At his first hearing, both made impassioned pleas he be kept behind bars.
"How does one describe such immeasurable pain so as to give even the slightest understanding of the overwhelming sadness, the emptiness, and pain we feel even after 26 years of dealing with our loss?" French's mother said then.
Mahaffy's mother, Debbie Mahaffy, said the "unspeakable and brutally sadistic acts" Bernardo committed defied description.
Bernardo, who ultimately admitted raping 14 other women, was also convicted of manslaughter in the December 1990 death of Homolka's younger sister, Tammy. The 15-year-old girl died after the pair drugged and sexually assaulted her.
Homolka pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served her 12-year prison sentence before being released in 2005. She went on to remarry and become a mother.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2021.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press