The long legal saga of Canadian serial sex killer Paul Bernardo came to an end Thursday when Canada's Supreme Court rejected his jailhouse appeal of his life sentence.
"For Bernardo, now it's over," said attorney Tony Bryant, who defended Bernardo at his murder trial along with senior counsel John Rosen.
From his isolated cell in Kingston Penitentiary, Bernardo, 36, asked Canada's highest court to review the 1995 trial that led to his murder conviction in the deaths of two Niagara-area girls, Leslie Mahaffy, 14, and Kristen French, 15. Along with those crimes, Bernardo also pleaded guilty to an earlier series of sexual assaults against young women in Toronto and St. Catharines.
Bernardo's appeals were based on the way defense lawyers and crown prosecutors handled their selection of jurors and the testimony of Bernardo's now ex-wife, Karla Homolka.
Homolka, who is serving a 12-year manslaughter sentence for her role in the killings, was given a lighter punishment than Bernardo in return for her testimony against him. Under the terms of that plea bargain, Homolka had to be truthful in her testimony, Bryant said.
But during Bernardo's trial, "we clearly demonstrated that she was not truthful about the scope of her involvement" with Bernardo in the sexual assault on a teenage girl identified only as Jane Doe, Bryant said. Homolka was also less than truthful, he said, about her role in the death of her younger sister, Tammy, who died after being drugged and sexually assaulted by Bernardo and Homolka.
At the time of her death, authorities ruled Tammy's death was accidental. Later, Homolka and Bernardo revealed how Tammy, 15, died after the assault. No one has been charged with her murder.
As is typically the case when the Supreme Court rejects an appeal, no reasons were given. But Bryant said the high court probably turned away the appeal because there were no compelling grounds on which legal changes might be made.
By rejecting the appeal, the door is closed on any further legal maneuverings by Bernardo, Bryant said. While most prisoners under a life sentence in Canada can still hope for parole some years in the future, Bernardo has been designated a "dangerous offender," which severely limits his chances for release even after his official sentence runs out.
Bernardo, if he lives as long as the average Canadian, will spend nearly 40 more years in jail, Bryant said.
Tim Danson, lawyer for the Mahaffy and French families, said the high court ruling has brought "significant relief" to the families of the murdered girls. "They were afraid that if the appeal was granted, in theory Bernardo could have been granted a new trial and they would have had to live through the whole thing again," he said.
It's "one more step along the road to closure," he added, noting Bernardo can still apply for appeal in 2008 and then in 2020 when his 25-years-to-life sentence is up.
According to Supreme Court documents, only 10 percent to 20 percent of the 400 to 600 cases filed for appeal with the high court between 1988 and 1998 have been accepted.