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Controversial plea bargain likely stands

By SANDY McLEAN

TORONTO, Sept. 1 -- One of Canada's top defense lawyers says despite public outrage, the plea bargain agreement that resulted in a 12-year sentence for Karla Homolka in exchange for testimony against ex- husband Paul Bernardo in his double rape and murder trial is unlikely to be overturned. 'A plea agreement is a contract like any contract -- if there is a breach of contract it could be overturned,' lawyer Edward Greenspan told United Press International. 'But it has to be a fundamental breach. You can't withdraw from a contract because it's a bad deal.' During the 56 days of Bernardo's trial, evidence came out that prosecutors agreed to seek only double manslaughter charges against Homolka, 25, in exchange for testimony against Bernardo. She is serving her manslaughter sentence in connection with the deaths of Leslie Mahaffy, 14, and Kristen French, 15. Bernardo was convicted Friday of their murders in the first degree, as well as kidnapping and rape. After Bernardo's verdict was read Friday, his defense attorney, John Rosen said he believed the jury would have preferred a different type of trial as well. 'I'm sure this jury would have preferred to have both of them sitting in the box together so they could judge both of them...rather than having (judgment on her) made by bureaucrats ahead of time,' Rosen said. Homolka testified she cooperated in sexual assaults on at least four young women, including her drugged 13-year-old sister. Homolka maintains she was a battered spouse and participated out of fear for her own life.

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But public anger at her role and the deal grew. Many felt six gruesome homemade videotapes showing the couple assaulting the victims would have been ample evidence to convict Bernardo, as well as indict Homolka for numerous charges. However, police who virtually tore apart the couple's Port Dalhousie, Ontario house, didn't find the videotapes, so the deal was struck. Several Ontario legislators recently announced their intention to seek a review of the controversial plea bargain in the legislature when it resumes on Sept. 26. The deal was approved by former Attorney-General Marion Boyd, whose socialist New Democrat government was routed in June. Although the public may be outraged by horrifying evidence brought out in the trial of Bernardo, provincial legislators may find their hands are tied. Defense lawyer Peter Rosenthal agreed it was unlikely the plea bargain could be overturned. 'It would be very unprecedented. It would interfere with the criminal justice system,' he said adding that reneging would prevent people from entering into them in the future for fear the government would attempt to overturn them. University of Toronto law professor Alan Mewett agreed. 'Unless you know the contents of the plea bargain you can't do anything. If they (politicians) want to investigate the circumstances under which the plea bargain was made that's fine. 'If they're talking about re-opening the Homolka case that's not fine. They simply can't do it. Once she's been convicted, and she has, and sentenced, which she has, that ends the proceedings.' In all his years in law, Greenspan said he's never known of a case where politicians have commented about an ongoing trial, calling it a political stance to appease mounting public outcry. '(They) are as irresponsible a group as I've ever seen. It's outrageous they're saying this now. The implication is that she's a demonstrated liar. That's for the jury to decide,' Greenspan said. 'It would be the attorney-general's duty to ignore the vote of the house if he didn't think there had been a fundamental breach or if he thought the future of the administration would suffer as a result.' Attorney-General Charles Harnick refused to comment while the case was ongoing. It seems the politicians have been muzzled. Two of the most vocal on the issue of changing the agreement, Gary Carr and Chris Stockwell, did not return calls regarding the plea bargain. In a Toronto Star article last week, Stockwell is reported as saying he will introduce a motion calling for Homolka to be retried. He was further reported as saying, 'What's the view of any fair-minded, sane, rational Ontario human being? It's that this is absolutely the worst deal imaginable. We as a government and me as a politician should use absolutely every legal and political resource imaginable to see that justice is done.' Carr was reported as saying in the same article he will submit public petitions after the legislature convenes, asking the Homolka deal be reconsidered. Although Carr didn't return several phone calls regarding the Homolka deal, his Oakville office continued to hand out petitions to the public which call for 'a public inquiry into the conduct of all crown and law enforcement officials/employees, at all levels involved in the investigation of Karla Homolka and in particular the circumstances of the negotiation of the plea bargain arrangement. We also demand that all day passes and other privileges be revoked and her full 12-year sentence be served in its entirety.' Homolka will be eligible for day parole next January.

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