Liveblog: Col. Russell Williams pleads guilty

Coverage from inside the courtroom in Belleville
Michael Friscolanti and Cathy Gulli

A gifted pilot and respected leader, Russell Williams was a rising star in the Canadian air force, an elite officer who ferried prime ministers and the Queen and was later awarded the top job at the country’s largest and busiest airbase. But when he took command of CFB Trenton in July 2009, the colonel was harbouring a dark secret that—even now, with confirmation of a guilty plea—is difficult to believe: he was a serial sexual predator who stalked his female victims, broke into dozens of homes, and stole hundreds of bras, panties, and other perverted “trophies.”

By the time police figured out the truth—seven months into his stint as 8 Wing commander—Williams’ twisted crime spree had escalated from fetish burglaries to sexual assault to the brutal slayings of two innocent women: Marie-France Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal stationed at his base; and Jessica Lloyd, 27, of Belleville, Ont.

On Monday morning, the 47-year-old colonel will stand inside the bulletproof prisoners’ box of a Belleville courtroom—just a short drive from the base he once commanded—and plead guilty to 88 criminal charges, including two counts of first-degree murder, two counts each of sexual assault and forcible confinement, and 82 offences linked to his bizarre lingerie burglaries. Maclean’s will be liveblogging from inside the courthouse, providing up-to-the-minute coverage as the hearing unfolds.

[4:12 PM]

On Aug. 2, 2009, Williams stripped naked, walked to the house two doors down from his cottage, and broke in. He didn’t steal anything or take any photos. Still naked, he walked back to his cottage.

[4:02 PM]

On July 10, 2009—just five days before he was sworn in as the commander of CFB Trenton—Williams spent half an hour in a backyard near his Tweed, Ont., cottage, staring through a window at a woman inside. When the woman climbed into the shower, Williams stripped naked, ran inside the house, and stole a black pair of underwear from the bedroom. He later told police that he was tempted to go in the bathroom and steal the underwear the woman just took off, but decided that was too “risky.” 

[3:25 PM]

Crown prosecutors are up to Count 59, and the details are shocking. Even before he assaulted two women and murdered two others, Williams was a serial sexual predator obsessed with stealing—and wearing—female undergarments. In one case, he stole underwear from a 12-year-old girl, and then left a one-word message on the computer in her bedroom: “Merci.” In another house—which he robbed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 2009—he photographed himself rubbing a girl’s make-up brush on his penis. “There is nothing in the evidence to suggest the make-up brush was stolen,” said prosecutor Robert Morrison. “It was left there to be used again.” The Crown has unveiled dozens of sample photographs, many of them showing Williams posing and masturbating in his victims’ lingerie. He has remained stone-faced and silent through it all, rarely lifting his head to look at the TV screens displaying his photo shoots. 

[2:01 PM]
The lunch break is over and Williams is being escorted—hands and legs cuffed—back to his seat in the prisoner’s box. A police officer is sitting on either side.

Only now, eight months after his arrest, is the full story of Russell Williams being revealed. In painstaking detail, prosecutors plan to show portions of the photographic and video evidence relating to each of his 88 crimes. So far, they have gone through only two of the counts: Williams’ first break-ins, at the house next door to his cottage in Tweed, Ont. Two large-screen TVs at the front of the courtroom are displaying some of the photographs, including Williams dressed in underwear belonging to the 12-year-old girl who lives in the house. In some of the photographs, Williams erect penis can be seen protruding from the girls’ underwear. He stole some of the items he wore, but left some behind.

[10:39 AM]

The clerk reads the two charges of sexual assault and forcible confinement in connection with the home-invasion attacks against Laurie Massicotte and another woman, whose name is protected by a publication ban.

[10:13 AM]

The court clerk is now reading each of the individual break-and-enter charges linked to Williams. There are 82 in all, and will take some time to get through. Williams is still standing, his eyes glued to the floor as the clerk continues reading.

[10:07 AM]
Williams is ordered to stand so the charges against him can be officially read into the court record. The murder of Marie-France Comeau is the first charge read. “How do you plead?” the court clerk asked. “Guilty, your honour,” Wiliams answered, in a soft voice. The murder of Jessica Lloyd is the next charge read. Again, Williams pleads guilty.

[9:59 AM]

Russell Williams is now inside the courtroom. After being escorted to the prisoners’ box, an OPP officer removed his handcuffs and walked away as his lawyer, Michael Edelson, approached for a brief chat with his client. The disgraced colonel is dressed in a grey blazer, and did not make eye contact with anyone in the gallery.

[9:51 AM]

Relatives of Russell Williams’ many victims have begun to take their seats inside the coutroom. A section of the gallery has been reserved for them, and boxes of Kleenex have been left on the benches. Laurie Massicotte, one of Williams’ two sexual assault victims, is here with two of her daughters. Friends and relatives of Williams’ two murder victims—Cpl. Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd—are also making their way inside the coutroom.

[7:57 AM)

The doors to Courtroom 303 are open, and journalists are beginning to file in. Outside, a team of tactical officers from the Ontario Provincial Police are awaiting Col. Williams’ arrival.