Saturday, July 3, 2004
Weapons charges dropped against Bernardo author
By Hilary Stead, Mercury Staff
GUELPH - Weapons charges against Stephen Williams. the controversial author of books about serial killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, and Williams' wife humour writer Marsha Boulton, were part of a "riches of abuse of power" and should never have been laid. their lawyer said yesterday after the Crown dropped them.
Eddie Greenspan said the Crown was not doing his clients a favour or making a concession in withdrawing charges of carelessly storing a shotgun and a rifle at their Harriston-area farm. The couple "were innocent," said Greenspan. adding that the charges should have been withdrawn long ago.
"Whether or not any civil action will be taken remains to be seen," he said. noting that the possibility of a lawsuit for malicious prosecution is definitely not off the radar screen.
Greenspan said the weapons charges. and 97 remaining charges in Toronto, are part of an overreaching abuse of power resulting from Williams' writings.
Those writings have been highly critical of the police investigation into the murders of Ontario teenagers Leslie Mahaffey and Kristen French by Bernardo and Homolka.
"I keep asking myself, had he written a book showering praise on the authorities, would he ever have been in a court of law? I doubt it," said Greenspan.
He called Boulton "a wonderful lady" who was a casualty of her address and her chosen partner.
"To see her as a person charged is mind-boggling," said Greenspan. The 97 charges Williams still faces allege he violated publication bans protecting the identity of nine of Bernardo's victims in 'his books Invisible Darkness and Karla and on a Web site. Those charges are scheduled to go to trial in Toronto in October.
"Every minute of the police conduct as it occurs related to Stephen Williams and Marsha Boulton is going to be questioned by us in a courtroom," said Greenspan, who defended Williams on 1998 charges related to Invisible Darkness for which he was acquitted in 2000.
In May, Williams received the Hellman-Hammett award, presented annually by New York-based Human Rights Watch to journalists who have been victims of political persecution.
The weapons charges were laid by Wellington County OPP in Mount Forest after a July 18 raid last year in which police seized computers and files belonging to Williams, 55, and Boulton, 51, and the two weapons located in their bedroom.
The law allows people on a farm to store firearms in a way that grants them ready access to them to control predators.
"It would appear that the police did not know about farm exemptions," said Greenspan, calling that odd as Harriston is deep in farming country.
Guelph Crown attorney Jocelyn Speyer said after court yesterday that her office assessed the charges on the basis of whether or not there was a reasonable prospect of conviction, which is a higher standard than the police standard of considering whether or not there are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed.
She said it would not be fair to look at the case as a precedent for police to charge any farmer who kept a gun ready to use against vermin that threaten livestock, instead of keeping them in a locked case.
Speyer said a pre-trial conference two weeks ago in which the defence disclosed information which helped the Crown decide not to proceed against Williams and Boulton.
Speyer said the decision was made by her office and was not directed by anyone in the Attorney General's office in Toronto.
She said it appeared that in this I case there was no consultation between the police and Crown's office, as sometimes occurred.
If the police need a legal opinion part of our job is to provide that," she said.
Boulton was relieved yesterday that she no longer faces charges, but is disappointed it took this long after a dozen police officers descended on her home in the early-morning raid last July.
"If it weren't so tragic, it would be Keystone Kops," said Boulton, a past recipient of the Stephen Leacock Medal for humour writing.
She said her health has suffered because of the stress and she is still waiting for police to return her personal computer and flies, including a nearly completed novel.
"In seizing my computer, they seized my livelihood, " she said.
Boulton raises sheep and rare-breeds of chickens on what she said the neighbors often refer to as "Green Acres" a reference to the Old MacDonald’s-style farm depicted in the television show in which Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert played a pair of genteel farmers.
"I got my hunting licence because initially I had a fear of guns," said Boulton, but with so many of her animals falling victim to prowling mink and raccoons she decided to take a hunting safety course. On Thursday she buried a prize silver Sussex hen that had been killed by a raccoon. The couple's English bull terrier, Wally, has frequent encounters with predators and yesterday was sporting a scratched nose from a run-in with a raccoon.
Boulton and Williams plan to get their guns back from the Mount Forest police station.
Greenspan also plans to write to request that Boulton's fingerprints and mug shot be removed from the police data base.
Williams, who was in court yesterday with Boulton to hear assistant Crown attorney Judith MacDonald withdraw the weapons charges, is still reeling that his wife was dragged through the courts and at the financial cost of fighting the charges.
"If this isn't indicative of abuse of process and malicious prosecution, I don't know what is," he said.
Williams said one of the numerous police officers involved in the investigation, many of them senior officers should have pointed out that there was no basis for the weapons charges.
"Am I supposed to believe that these people who are sworn to enforce the law and uphold the law don't know the law?" he said.