"I have committed despicable crimes"

Russell Williams speaks to his victims
Michael Friscolanti and Cathy Gulli

Marie-France Comeau begged for her life. “I don’t deserve to die,” she said, cowering in the corner of her own bedroom. “Have a heart, please. I’ve been really good. I want to live.” Russell Williams put a piece of silver duct tape over her nose, and captured her final breaths with his video camera.

Williams assured his next murder victim, Jessica Lloyd, that he would set her free as long as she complied with each of his sick demands. And she did—for 18 hellish hours. Then he cracked her over the head with a flashlight, strangled her with a rope, and left her dead body in his garage for the next four days.

On Thursday morning—at the end of a sentencing hearing that revealed the true depth of Russell Williams’ shocking double life—Justice Robert Scott asked the man in the prisoner’s box if he had anything to say. He did.

“I stand before you, your Honour, indescribably ashamed,” said the disgraced air force colonel, his voice low, his ankles shackled. “I know the crimes I’ve committed have traumatized many people. The families and friends of Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd in particular have suffered and continue to suffer profound and desperate pain and sorrow as a result of what I’ve done.”

As he spoke, Williams paused for long stretches of time, fighting back tears (real or not). He listed all his crimes—including two home-invasion sexual assaults, and dozens of burglaries targeting women’s lingerie—and acknowledged that his actions caused many innocent women to “suffer terribly.” His family, he said, has also “been irreparably harmed.”

“The fact is I deeply regret what I have done and the harm I know I have caused,” he continued. “I have committed despicable crimes, your Honour.” Again, Williams had to stop and compose himself, reaching to accept a Kleenex from one of his lawyers. “And in the process, I betrayed my family, my friends, my colleagues, and the Canadian Forces.”

Sniffling and wiping his eyes, Williams paused one more time. “I shall spend the rest of my life knowing that I ended two vibrant, innocent and cherished lives,” he finally continued. “My very sincere hope is that my detailed confession on the night of Feb. 7, my full cooperation with investigators since, and ultimately my guilty pleas earlier this week have in some way served to temper the very, very serious harm I’ve caused my victims, their families, and friends. Thank you.”

When Williams finished, Justice Scott rubberstamped his mandatory sentence: two concurrent life terms to be served in a solitary cell at Kingston Penitentiary. Technically, Williams will be eligible for parole in 25 years (when he is 72) but the gruesome evidence revealed this week will almost certainly ensure that the National Parole Board keeps him behind bars until the day he dies. “His depravity has no equal,” the judge said. “He may be best described as Canada’s bright shining lie.”

A gifted pilot and a natural leader, Williams was once a rising star in the Canadian military, an elite officer who piloted prime ministers and the Queen and was later awarded the top job at CFB Trenton, the country’s largest and busiest air base. He seemed to have it all: a happy marriage, a hefty salary, and the respect of everyone under his command. But he was harbouring a dark, uncontrollable secret that—even now, after seeing the overwhelming evidence—is still difficult to believe.

“What makes it more despicable is that this was a man who was considered above reproach,” said Lee Burgess, one of the Crown Attorneys who worked the Williams file. “That a man like this could commit such monstrosities really makes you feel that the world is no longer a safe place, no matter where you are.”