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Canadian Judge Defends Plea Deal in Murders

March 19, 1996|CRAIG TURNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TORONTO — A judicial review released Monday recommended against overturning a controversial, secret plea bargain granted in one of Canada's most notorious murder cases.

The report, by a retired judge assigned to reexamine the deal, appears to quash efforts to revoke the 1993 agreement between government prosecutors and Karla Homolka. Homolka, 26, pleaded guilty to two manslaughter counts and received a 12-year prison sentence in exchange for testifying against her ex-husband, Paul Bernardo, in the rapes and torture murders of two teenage girls.

Homolka is eligible for parole next year. Bernardo, convicted after a sensational trial in Toronto last summer, is serving a life sentence.

Judge Patrick T. Galligan, who conducted his inquiry behind closed doors, defended the bargain on the grounds that prosecutors believed they needed Homolka's testimony to convict Bernardo, who was the more culpable of the pair. At the time the deal was struck, authorities did not possess videotapes that turned out to be the crucial evidence against Bernardo.

Details of Homolka's plea bargain were suppressed for almost two years by the courts, ostensibly to protect Bernardo's right to a trial untainted by publicity. But public outrage over the deal soared when it was fully publicized for the first time.

The controversy continued when videotapes showed Homolka joining Bernardo in sexually assaulting the girls, who were kidnapped and held in the couple's home.

Last year, more than 300,000 Canadians signed petitions calling for a tougher sentence for Homolka.

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