Campione guilty of murdering daughters

Elaine Campione is seen with her two daughters, Sophia, left, 19 months, and Serena, 3, in this undated photo handed out by the court in Barrie, Ont., on Thursday, November 4, 2010.

BARRIE—It took a long time to get there. But now time is all she’s got.

A lifetime in prison — with no parole eligibility for 25 years.

On their seventh day of deliberation, after making two enquiries of the judge, a jury finally reached and rendered its decision: Elaine Campione is guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. Elaine Campione is legally and morally responsible for first-degree murder.

As she heard the verdict Monday morning, Campione’s face immediately crumpled. She sobbed, squeaking loudly as she has throughout the trial, and bent at the waist. Her father, sitting with her mother and aunt in the front row, gasped as the verdict was read.

She killed her kids, defenceless little girls, held their heads under water until their hearts stopped beating.

She made a video confessing to her ghastly crime, all but crowing over taking the lives of her daughters on that fateful night — Oct. 2, 2006 — so that their father would be tortured by grief and guilt for all his days.

She purportedly intended to kill herself by drug overdose too. But if that planned scenario was ever indeed true, Campione botched it, not nearly as adept at suicide as double homicide.

Serena was 3 years old. Sophia was 19 months. Their mother plotted, deliberated and carried out the children’s execution, drowning them in the bathtub — first, it would appear, the toddler, and then, after chasing her through the Barrie apartment, the older girl, old enough to perhaps sense that mummy had turned into a monster.

It may have been an act of madness, or maddened vengeance, incomprehensible by any measure of sanity. But it was not insanity, as defined by law: Inability to understand the moral and legal wrongness, the consequences, of one’s actions.

Campione knew what she was doing, this jury of six men and six women concluded. Campione had sufficient grasp of her senses, no matter how distraught and floundering, to appreciate the crime she was committing as she methodically took the lives of her daughters, the girls she doted on, loved so maniacally that she couldn’t bear the prospect of losing custody to her estranged husband, Leo Campione.

Better off dead, Campione decided. Better off all together “in heaven,” a hereafter that surely had no place for murdering mothers.

Filicide it’s called — the rare crime of children killed by their parents.

Campione is 35. At trial she wept copious tears, sobbing and squeaking as if from deep despair — yet only when the jury was present. In their absence, the defendant was dry-eyed, engaging with her legal team, chatting and sometimes smiling. As soon as the jurors re-entered the courtroom, however, Campione would assume her theatrically despondent posture, chin sinking into her chest, crumpled tissue at her mouth, at one point even babbling and shrieking from the witness box, something about “they’re killing Elaine!”

A skeptic would have thought Campione merely playing to the juror gallery, window dressing her plea of mental illness — the exculpation advanced, and with some effectiveness, by defence lawyer Mary Cremer: that Campione should be found “not criminally responsible” for an abominable act that has never been denied during this trial.

Not sane at the time, Cremer argued before the jury. Campione herself never took the stand. Nor, oddly, was her husband summoned as a witness by the prosecution, despite being constantly evoked and referenced by both sides during the trial and directly addressed by his spouse on that shocking confessional video.

Campione was purportedly at the end of her emotional tether over a looming custody dispute with Leo when she drowned their daughters. A family court hearing had been scheduled for later that October week and Elaine was terrified that her hospital records would be used to support Leo’s application for full custody.

Three times in the previous year Campione had been hospitalized for psychiatric problems; at least once she’d attempted suicide, though calling her in-laws — a couple she detested — after taking a drug overdose.

Her lawyer maintained Campione’s fragile mental health had deteriorated drastically in the weeks before the children were killed, their mother snapping under the duress of the custody battle and Leo’s refusal to allow Elaine to move back to New Brunswick with the girls.

The slide into lethal madness, said Cremer, had begun at least a year earlier, but also had roots in her client’s long-standing depression and mental health issues, perhaps attributable to postpartum depression, even a head injury sustained during a teenage car accident.

The prosecution, led by Crown attorney Enno Meijers, countered that killings were committed knowingly and willfully.

Though Campione was emotionally exhausted and mentally ill, she still understood what she was doing and vengefully killed her children rather than surrender them to Leo, her allegedly abusive ex. Yet, the Crown suggested, Campione remained in love with Leo and had longed for a reconciliation. Only when this hope dimmed — Leo beginning a relationship with another woman, sending along papers to sell the matrimonial home, playing hardball on custody — did Elaine realize it was all over, said Meijers. The girls had been her one last connection to Leo and now he was likely going to get them.

Elaine Campione had accused Leo of assaulting her and Serena in the fall of 2005. A judge stayed those charges pending the conclusion of this trial. While Leo Campione was not in the docket here, and no court has weighed the evidence against him, he was routinely described as a wife-beater, on the allegation of a woman accused of murder.

If nothing else, Leo Campione’s claim that his wife was an unfit custodial parent, incapable of taking proper care of the girls, might even present a danger to them, was sadly borne out.

Expert psychiatric witnesses called to support the respective positions of prosecution and defence largely cancelled each other out, though there was agreement, at minimum, that had Campione borderline personality traits with unspecified psychosis.

Yet Campione doesn’t appear or sound psychotic in the hugely damaging videotape she made the night she killed her daughters.

It begins with a cozy family scene — Sophia splashing in the tub, Serena colouring — but ends with a hate-infused rant aimed at her husband. Staring into the camera, Campione spits out invective, claiming she’s taken a lethal dose of drugs and will soon join their daughters in a better, safer place, away from him.

“There, are you happy now?” Campione snarls. “How does it feel?”

After two full nights and one full day in the company of her daughters’ corpses — groomed, dressed in pretty nightclothes, laid out in mama’s bed — Campione call police and reported the deaths.

Police found the dead sisters clasping cold fingers, rosary entwined, along with funeral instructions and clothes for their burial neatly folded.

On the videotape, Elaine Campione declares: “I was a perfect wife . . . I was a great mother.”

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