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The Globe and Mail - Colonel Russell Williams to plead guilty to all charges

(2010-10-08)

Accused killer and former air-base commander Russell Williams will plead guilty to all the charges against him, his lawyer Michael Edelson told Superior Court Thursday morning.

Every spot in the 153-seat courtroom was taken as Mr. Edelson told presiding Superior Court Judge Mr. Justice Robert Scott that Col. Williams did not wish to contest the charges.

Clad in a dark suit, white shirt and brown shoes, Col. Williams was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. His hair was closely cropped. He displayed no emotion as Mr. Edelson announced the decision, but simply gazed at the courtroom floor.

One floor down, an overflow room was also packed. In both venues the mood during the hearing, which was less than 15 minutes, was electric.

Crown attorney Lee Burgess listed some minor amendments to the charges, including a renewed ban on the name of one of the sexual assault victims.

The second victim, Laurie Massicotte, has waived the right to have her name withheld, Mr. Burgess told the court.

Seated in the jury box was Belleville Police Chief Cory McMullan, alongside OPP Detective Inspector Chris Nicholas, who headed the eight-month investigation.

Col. Williams' formal plea and sentencing are set to begin Oct. 18. The sentencing process is expected to last four days, and will encompass numerous victim-impact statements.

He faces an automatic sentence of life in prison with no possibility for parole for at least 25 years. He will also have to repay to the military the roughly $12,000 per month he has been receiving in salary since his arrest in February.

He will plead guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of sexual assault and forcible confinement and a string of 82 bizarre break-ins.

Col. Williams, 47, a decorated Air Force career soldier joined the military in 1987 and until his arrest was the commander of 8 Wing/CFB Trenton, the sprawling air base just west of Belleville. He had held the post for just over seven months.

Pulled over and questioned Feb. 4 at a police roadblock set up near the rural home of his second alleged murder victim, Jessica Lloyd, he was placed under surveillance and three days later was summoned to the main Ontario Provincial Police detachment in Ottawa and interrogated.

The same evening, after just a few hours of questioning, he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of sexual assault and forcible confinement, dispatching waves of horror and disbelief through the armed forces and the rest of the country.

What had cracked the case, in large part, was a distinctive tire track found in snow behind Ms. Lloyd's home.

Further shock ensued in April when Col. Williams was charged with a total of 82 residential break-ins, all involving the theft or attempted theft of women's lingerie. Almost all the burglaries took place near the two homes he shared with his longtime wife, Mary-Elizabeth Harriman, in Ottawa and in the small village of Tweed, north of Trenton.

Police who searched the couple's newly built house in the trendy Ottawa neighbourhood of Westboro found hundreds of pieces of women's underclothing catalogued and concealed in the garage.

Few of the break-ins had been reported.

Outside court on Thursday, Ms. Lloyd's older brother, Andy, said he was content with the outcome and relieved that the process is nearing its end.

Many of Ms. Lloyd's relatives crowded the courtroom. Her mother Roxanne clutched a large, framed photograph of her slain daughter.

Since shortly after his arrest the former commander has been detained at the Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee, where he is being held in segregation and under close watch, following an abortive suicide bid. He also staged a short-lived hunger strike.

During the past eight months, he has appeared in court via videolink half a dozen times.

The murder charges stem from the November killing of Corporal Marie-France Comeau, 38, a Trenton air attendant under his command, and the January slaying of Ms. Lloyd, 27, who worked for a Napanee school-bus company and lived on Hwy. 37, which links Belleville and Tweed.

Corp. Comeau's badly beaten body was discovered at her home in Brighton, close to Trenton, while that of Ms. Lloyd was found in thick woods outside Tweed.

Both victims were asphyxiated.

The sexual-assault charges derive from twin home invasions, both in September, 2009, and both close to Col. Williams's lakeside cottage in Tweed.

In each instance the sleeping women were attacked by a nighttime intruder who struck them, blindfolded them and tied them to chairs. Their clothing was then cut from them and they were photographed in the nude, ordeals that lasted hours.

As with the two murder victims, both women were home alone at the time, aside from a weeks-old baby who slept through the first attack. Both were able to struggle free and call police.

Police issued no public announcement about the first home invasion, but the second one, 13 days later, prompted a public alert and stirred widespread alarm in Tweed.

Col. Williams was never questioned about either attack. Instead, police suspicion fell upon his next-door neighbour, Larry Jones, who became a local pariah until Col. Williams was arrested four months later.

All the offences Col. Williams is accused of occurred during the relatively short span of less than 2 1/2 years, commencing in September, 2007, when the first burglary took place, and Jan. 28 of this year, when Ms. Lloyd disappeared overnight from her home.

No additional charges are immediately anticipated.

After Col. Williams was arrested and charged in February, the OPP investigation based in Smiths Falls, Ont., was flooded with “cold case” inquiries from police elsewhere in the country.

Most came from jurisdictions where he had served during his steady upward march through the Air Force ranks, notably Halifax and the Winnipeg area. But other unresolved murders in

Toronto and even the United States, where his father lives in North Carolina, also drew fresh scrutiny.

From the outset, however, police sources familiar with the investigation said they believed Col. Williams had provided a full confession. After the short hearing, Det. Insp. Nicholas said that still appears to be the case and that no further crimes are currently under investigation.

On hold, meanwhile, pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings, is a $2.4-million civil action launched by the first woman Col. Williams is accused of sexually assaulting.

A few weeks after his arrest, he and his wife, Ms. Harriman, divided up their chief assets in an arrangement that saw him become the sole owner of the cottage in Tweed, while she gained control of the much more valuable home in Ottawa.

The lawsuit alleges that the swap was a ruse designed to put the Westboro home, worth around $800,000, beyond the reach of any civil claim for compensation. In her statement of defence Ms. Harriman, an executive with the Ottawa-based Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, has denied the accusation.

Her husband has filed no statement of defence but has said he intends to do so.

The couple have no children.

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