Russell Williams—the disgraced colonel accused of murder, sexual assault and dozens of perverted home invasions—is one step closer to a trial. During a brief court appearance this morning in Belleville, Ont., the former commander of Canada’s largest air force base was told that a pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 26. Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, and appearing via a video link from the Napanee, Ont., jail he now calls home, Williams responded with two words: “Thank you.”
Exactly what will happen on Aug. 26 remains unclear. Despite reports that the 47-year-old plans to plead guilty, neither the Crown nor the defence is commenting on the rumours.
Today’s court appearance comes one year and one week to the day after Williams assumed command of 8 Wing/CFB Trenton, the Canadian Forces’ busiest and most strategically important air base. Police now allege that during the colonel’s six-month stint as boss, he led an elaborate and violent double life as a sexual predator. Arrested on Feb. 7, he is charged with killing two women—Marie-France Comeau, a corporal stationed on his base, and Jessica Lloyd of Belleville—and sexually assaulting two other women after sneaking into their houses. In April, he was slapped with 82 additional charges connected to a series of bizarre break-and-enters in which the thief targeted only one thing: women’s undergarments.
Williams, who appeared dejected but healthy, has yet to enter a plea.
Among those sitting in the packed courtroom today was Andy Lloyd, Jessica’s older brother. It was the first time he laid eyes on the man who allegedly murdered his little sister. “It’s something I have to do for myself,” he told reporters outside. “It’s a bit of a shock but I’m prepared for it.”
While Williams’ criminal case continues to crawl toward a conclusion, he is also the target of a civil lawsuit. His first alleged sexual assault victim—a 21-year-old woman who was blindfolded, tied to a chair, stripped naked and photographed while her baby daughter slept in a nearby room—is demanding nearly $2.5 million in damages for his “harsh, vindictive, malicious, horrific and reprehensible” conduct. The victim, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, says in her statement of claim that she has been forced to develop “certain psychological mechanisms in order to survive the horrors of the assault,” including “denial, repression, disassociation and guilt.”
The lawsuit also names Williams’ wife, Mary-Elizabeth Harriman, as a defendant. It claims that six weeks after her husband was arrested, she entered into a “secret” deal to “fraudulently” acquire his share of their Ottawa townhouse “in an effort to defeat the Plaintiff’s claims.”
Harriman, the associate executive director of the Ottawa-based Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, has not spoken publicly since her husband was charged. But in court documents, she denies any wrongdoing and insists that she paid “valuable consideration” for Williams’ stake in the home. “The timing of the transfer was not unusual given the crisis facing the marriage,” writes her lawyer, Mary Jane Binks.
In sworn affidavit signed on June 2—the day after her 19th wedding anniversary—Harriman claims that “as a result of the charges, my previously anticipated future and financial security had become jeopardized.” Along with the home, she says, Williams “transferred to me additional assets in response to my concern for my financial security as against him.”
“I had absolutely no intention whatsoever to have the matrimonial home fraudulently conveyed to me for the purpose of defeating the claims of the Plaintiff,” her affidavit continues. “At all times my intent in executing the conveyance was to provide for my financial security as against my husband.”
As part of her defence, Harriman is also asking a judge to order a publication ban on all the evidence she plans to present, including personal financial statements and further details about her work at the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “The revelation of the criminal charges against the Defendant Williams and my identity as his wife has been devastating to me,” she writes. “The publication of further particular details of my professional life, personal financial situation, and legal affairs could have a significant negative impact upon me personally and professionally.”
A hearing on the matter, originally scheduled for July 27, has been postponed until Oct. 19.