The actual sentence is not up for debate. First-degree murder carries a mandatory punishment of life behind bars with no chance of parole for 25 years, and when Russell Williams officially pleads guilty next week, his fate will be no different. The disgraced colonel will be transferred to a federal penitentiary, locked in isolation for his own safety, and left to wonder—until his 72nd birthday—whether it’s even worth applying to the National Parole Board.
If he’s as smart as everyone says, Williams already knows the answer: he will remain in prison until the day he dies.
But not before spending a few more hours inside a Belleville, Ont., courtroom, explaining to a judge—and his many, many victims—how he managed to conceal an elaborate double life as a serial stalker while busy commanding the country’s largest air force base, CFB Trenton. As part of his historic guilty plea, Williams must submit an “agreed statement of facts” that should finally shed some light on what sparked his unthinkable crime spree of two homicides, two home-invasion sexual assaults, and dozens of bizarre break-ins that targeted women’s underwear.
Exactly what Williams plans to say will remain a mystery until the hearing begins Oct. 18. But it’s now clear that the evidence against him is nothing short of overwhelming.
According to one newspaper report, the colonel videotaped both his murder victims (Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, 38; and Jessica Lloyd, 27) and kept a detailed, computerized spreadsheet describing each of his offences. Maclean’s has also learned that during some of the late-night break-ins, Williams photographed himself inside his victims’ homes—dressed in their lingerie.
Among the dozens of cross-dressing photos seized by police were a handful of snapshots taken inside the Tweed, Ont., home of Laurie Massicotte, one of Williams’s two sexual assault victims. The colonel now admits that in the days before he attacked his neighbour in September 2009, he broke into her home on two other occasions and walked away with some of her undergarments. Last week, after Williams’s lawyer announced that his client plans to plead guilty, police told Massicotte the rest of the disgusting details.
“They have pictures of him in my house wearing my underwear,” she says. “It’s another shock. Had I not already gone through the biggest shock of my life on Sept. 30, I would not have been able to handle this.”
Another robbery victim, who did not want to be named, received a similar briefing from detectives. “It is worse than I ever imagined,” she says. “It makes you want to throw up.”
If there is a silver lining for the victims, it’s that the chilling photographic evidence will likely never see the light of day. Because Williams chose a guilty plea instead of a trial, the boxes of items seized from his homes will not be entered as courtroom exhibits; they will remain in a police vault, shielded from the press and the public.
In theory, a person could ask for the records under Access to Information laws, but the request would surely be denied for privacy reasons. An appeal to the courts would likely fail, too, thanks to precedents provided in the case of serial rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo. During his infamous trial, media outlets demanded access to the notorious videotapes depicting the torture of teenagers Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, but the judge refused, ruling that only the audio would be broadcast in open court. After the verdict, Timothy Danson, a lawyer for the girls’ families, convinced the courts that all the Bernardo evidence, including the video footage, should be destroyed.
“The purpose of keeping it out of the public light isn’t to deny free speech,” Danson says now. “It is to protect the victims.”
Laurie Massicotte wants that same protection, and says she will fight any attempt to have the Williams photographs disclosed. “I don’t want to see them, and I sure don’t want anybody else to see them,” she says. “I need to protect my family. There is no reason for them to see any of this stuff—ever.”
Massicotte has yet to attend any of her attacker’s court appearances, but she plans to be in the gallery for Williams’s final few days as a colonel (as soon as he is sentenced, the military plans to strip him of his rank and recoup the salary he’s collected since his arrest). Andy Lloyd, Jessica’s older brother, will be in the courtroom, too, and is working on a victim impact statement.
“I haven’t actually finished it,” he says. “But I basically want to let him know how his actions have affected our daily life. We want him to know just how much he has hurt people.” When asked what he hopes to hear Williams say during the sentencing phase, Lloyd replied: “I’m not looking for an apology; it’s not going to hold its weight in anything. But we would like to hear the truth about what happened. Why? Why her?”