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'Canada's bright shining lie' begins serving life sentences

Col. Russell Williams is shown in this court-released image from his interrrogation by police captured on video and shown Wednesday in a Belleville, Ont. courtroom. Williams told police that while he did ask himself why he raped and killed women he could never come up with an answer and he was pretty sure the answers don't matter.

Handout/The Canadian Press

In handcuffs and leg shackles, convicted murderer and sex predator Colonel Russell Williams was led from court to begin serving two life sentences, the final cathartic act in a chronicle of horror that shook the military and the country to the core.

The disgraced 47-year-old former commander of 8 Wing-CFB Trenton will almost certainly die behind bars, and as he haltingly addressed the court before sentencing Thursday, the once-proud wing commander looked like a broken man.

"I stand before you, your Honour, indescribably ashamed," he told Mr. Justice Robert Scott of Ontario Superior Court, sniffling and speaking in a slow, measured tone, as if struggling for the energy to speak.

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"I know that the crimes I committed have traumatized many people. The family and friends of Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd in particular have suffered, and continue to suffer profound desperate pain and sorrow as a result of what I've done."

The decorated colonel - he formally retains his rank until stripped of it, along with his medals, a process likely to proceed quickly - said he would spend the rest of his life regretting that he had ended "two vibrant, innocent and cherished lives."

Dressed in a dark suit and white shirt, standing upright in the prisoner's box, the colonel was referring to the savage sex slayings of air attendant Corporal Marie-France Comeau , 37, who served under his command at the Trenton air base and Ms. Lloyd, 27, a much-loved Belleville resident who worked for a Napanee bus company.

For those murders, he received two concurrent life terms, with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years. In addition, he was sentenced to two 10-year terms for two sexual assaults he committed in the village of Tweed, where he had a cottage, and to a year for each of 82 fetish burglaries he carried out in and around Tweed and in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans, in which he stolen women's underwear.

Those sentences will be concurrent with the life terms, and like such notorious killers as Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo, the possibility of him ever securing parole is remote.

He was also handed a lifetime weapons ban and will be listed on the national, RCMP-administered sex-offender list. As well, Judge Scott ordered that the Nissan Pathfinder in which Col. Williams kidnapped Ms. Lloyd be crushed.

"The depths of the depravity shown by Russell Williams have no equal," Judge Scott said. "He is Canada's bright, shining lie," an allusion to the fallen colonel's former life of privilege, authority and respect.

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On Monday, eight months after he was snared at a Belleville roadblock, the killer who once flew the Queen to Canada and piloted many other dignitaries, pleaded guilty to all the charges.

In court on Thursday, he acknowledged betraying his family, his friends and his colleagues in the Canadian armed forces.

Judge Scott took the unusual step of specifying that Col. Williams be dispatched to Kingston Penitentiary. There, he will very likely be confined in the claustrophobic segregation cell block that has long been home to Mr. Bernardo.

In St. John's, Prime Minister Stephen Harper voiced condolences for the many bereaved, and said the Canadian Forces will do what it can to strip benefits from Col. Williams.

Certainly, he will have to repay the roughly $12,000 monthly salary he has been receiving since his arrest.

As well, he has incurred substantial legal costs from his Ottawa lawyer, Michael Edelson.

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But as things stand, there is no legal basis for cancelling his $60,000 retirement pension, air staff chief Lieutenant-General André Deschamps told a news conference at the nearby CFB Trenton air base that the colonel used to command.

Nor is there any need for a court-martial, given the multiple criminal convictions, he said.

In the packed courtroom, the killer also acknowledged his two sexual assault victims have "suffered terribly."

In passing sentence, Judge Scott said the colonel's remorse appeared to be sincere, even as he described him as a "sick and dangerous" man, who will forever be remembered as a sadosexual serial killer "who lived a charmed life."

Outside the courthouse, which has witnessed a media frenzy for the past four days, Ms. Lloyd's brother Andy voiced satisfaction with the outcome.

"As long as he dies in jail, I'm happy," he said.

"I'm glad he cried," said their mother, Roxanne, clutching a framed picture of her murdered daughter. "Justice was served."

In his closing address, Crown attorney Lee Burgess called Col. Williams "simply one of the most despicable killers in Canadian history."

Mr. Burgess also spoke for the Comeau family, who unlike the Lloyds, did not deliver any victim-impact statements.

Cpl. Comeau, he said, was a "ray of sunshine" for her father, a retired military man.

Col. Williams "has broken their lives," Mr. Burgess said. "They consider it a monstrous betrayal of trust. They simply want to be left alone to confront their sorrow and cry together in private.

"No doubt he laughed at us as he lived his life as a community leader by day and a serial criminal by night. He transformed this community because he betrayed this community and he betrayed the military."

The Crown won't be seeking dangerous-offender status, meaning the killer would be jailed indefinitely, because it would be "superfluous," only serving to prolong the suffering of the families, Mr. Burgess said.

The evidence and photographs displayed in court were so horrifying they left every spectator numb.

Yet it could have been even worse. After some debate, Mr. Burgess and the prosecution team decided not to air the videos Col. Williams took of his two murder victims.

On the Belleville courthouse steps, the detective who headed the investigation, OPP Detective Inspector Chris Nicholas, was asked by a reporter whether the videos and photos would ever be released.

"Not while I'm alive," he replied.

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About the Author

At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More


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