Homolka's Cross-examination Ends

It was a battle of wits and wills, filled with startling accusations, blunt denials and heated exchanges. For seven days, defence lawyer John Rosen, a shrewd and tenacious courtroom performer, relentlessly attacked the icy, impenetrable woman in the witness stand, 25-year-old Karla Homolka.

Homolka's Cross-examination Ends

It was a battle of wits and wills, filled with startling accusations, blunt denials and heated exchanges. For seven days, defence lawyer John Rosen, a shrewd and tenacious courtroom performer, relentlessly attacked the icy, impenetrable woman in the witness stand, 25-year-old Karla Homolka. Neither Rosen nor Homolka emerged a clear winner in the contest, which concluded last week midway through the first-degree murder trial in Toronto of Homolka's ex-husband, Paul Bernardo, 30. Rosen managed to cast doubt on Homolka's claim that she participated in the brutal sex slayings of Leslie Mahaffy, 14, and Kristen French, 15, because she was terrified of her violent and abusive husband. Yet Homolka stuck to her story that she was an unwilling accomplice. And, with exasperation in her voice and a look of disbelief on her face, she curtly dismissed his most serious allegations - that she suffocated Mahaffy and may have bludgeoned French to death with a rubber mallet.

During his grilling of the Crown's star witness, Rosen told the eight-man, four-woman jury that Homolka was so obsessed with Bernardo that she willingly went along with his schemes to kidnap and rape young girls in order to save what he sarcastically termed a "fairy-tale marriage." He concluded his cross-examination by suggesting that their relationship had begun to deteriorate following the death, on Dec. 24, 1990, of Homolka's 15-year-old sister, Tammy, who choked to death on her own vomit after Bernardo and Homolka drugged and raped her. Following that tragedy, Rosen said, Bernardo began to assault and mistreat Homolka. But far from hating him, she became even more devoted to Bernardo and remained determined to make him happy right up until Jan. 5, 1993, when her parents finally dragged her out of the St. Catharines, Ont., home she shared with her husband.

Besides attacking the credibility of Homolka's story, Rosen also raised several intriguing questions about her May, 1993, plea bargain deal with the Ontario attorney-general's ministry. She is now serving concurrent 12-year prison terms for manslaughter in the deaths of French and Mahaffy. In exchange for those relatively lenient sentences, she agreed to testify against Bernardo. The deal also shielded her from prosecution in the death of her sister Tammy; in June, it was extended to cover her involvement in the sexual assault of a fourth teenager, known only as Jane Doe, who survived and is expected to testify against Bernardo. Rosen warned Homolka that the deal could be re-opened, and that she could be charged with kidnapping, unlawful confinement or sexual assault if new evidence against her emerged at Bernardo's trial.

Throughout his cross-examination, Rosen insisted that Homolka was far more involved in the crimes than she had previously acknowledged. He suggested, contrary to her earlier assertions, that Homolka enjoyed "kinky three-way sex" and eagerly participated in the assault on Mahaffy, which took place in the master bedroom of the Bernardo home. When the sex ended early in the morning on June 16, 1991, Rosen said, Bernardo wanted to dump the teenager, who had been drugged and blindfolded throughout her ordeal, somewhere in her home town of Burlington, about 35 km northwest of St. Catharines. He was elsewhere in the house, getting ready to leave, according to the defence lawyer, when Homolka knelt on Mahaffy's back and held her face in a pillow until she suffocated. "What you are putting to me is a lie," Homolka said in response to that suggestion. "Paul strangled her with a black electrical cord."

Homolka had earlier testified that Bernardo strangled French with a similar piece of cord on the morning of April 19, 1992. But Rosen again put forward a different explanation. He said that on Saturday evening, Bernardo told his wife that he liked French - whom they had kidnapped two days earlier - and wanted to keep her as a sex slave for an unspecified period of time. But Homolka argued that the girl had to die, partly to avoid the risks involved in holding her captive any longer.

Shortly after that discussion, Bernardo went out for fast food and to rent a videotape. He left French on the floor of the master bedroom with a black electrical cord around her neck, which was attached to the handcuffs and cords used to bind her hands and feet. In Bernardo's absence, French tried to escape and Homolka began beating her on the head and face with a rubber mallet. The girl died, Rosen claimed, either from blows inflicted by Homolka or by accidentally strangling herself with the cord around her neck.

While Homolka coolly brushed aside Rosen's suggestion that she, and not Bernardo, was the killer, she had a much more difficult time trying to explain dozens of love notes and cards which she gave her former husband. The defence lawyer used Homolka's own words to portray her as a woman completely obsessed by Bernardo, a passion that survived all his beatings and abuse. In fact, in May, 1992, with the death of her sister Tammy and murders of Mahaffy and French behind her, Homolka revealed, in a typically gleeful letter to her best friend, that she was looking forward to having a baby with Bernardo. She added, "I can't wait!"

Maclean's July 24, 1995