Leo Campione was not on trial.
Leo Campione was a victim, the father of two little murdered girls, killed by their mother’s hand.
Leo Campione had pleaded with child welfare officials to remove those children from his estranged wife’s custody, terrified the youngsters might come to harm — fears that were sadly, gruesomely, realized when Elaine Campione took their lives.
But on the day of Elaine’s reckoning, found guilty by a jury on two counts of first-degree murder, the judge in the case implicitly aimed his condemnation at . . . Leo.
“It is more than disconcerting to think that if Ms Campione had not been so abused, so used and discarded as a person, her two daughters could still be alive.’’
This is a breathtaking rearrangement of the facts as court heard them.
If spousal abuse had occurred, if violence was done to Elaine Campione and the children, those allegations were not tested in this court.
Justice Alfred Stong has only the word of a convicted murderess — statements made not in this courtroom but to police, psychiatrists, counsellors and residents at a women’s shelter — that she was horribly mistreated, more than a year before she drowned the children.
It was with a custody battle looming, one that she suspected she’d lose — and there was ample cause for her trepidation — that Elaine Campione made the ghastly decision to execute her children. She preferred them dead than awarded to her ex-husband and his parents.
It wasn’t against Leo, purported wife-beater, that Elaine unleashed her homicidal wrath on Oct. 2, 2006. It was their utterly innocent daughters, their murder a conduit for her rage at their father. She said so, at great length, in the monologue delivered before a videocamera 48 minutes after the children were last seen alive — 19-month-old Sophia splashing in the tub, 3-year-old Serena colouring.
Yet shockingly, inexplicably, against all the rules of jurisprudence, Stong levelled his stinging indictment not at the accused and now convicted defendant, a woman who has never denied her crime, but — there’s no other way for me to interpret this — at the husband. And then, only after discussion of the parameters under which he would permit it, did Stong agree to let Leo Campione and his parents make victim impact statements, which will be heard on Wednesday.
Stong can’t undo the verdict. But by his bizarre words, he has given succor to a killer and considerably shifted the onus of responsibility, diminishing the impact of the jury’s finding.
Elaine Campione, in July 2005, had her husband charged with assault, claiming Leo had hit her and slapped their older daughter.
Those charges were stayed pending the conclusion of this trial.
The allegations of abuse were made by a woman who never took the stand in her own defence, who spewed venom at her estranged spouse and damned him to hell for the murders she had just committed — “How does it feel” Elaine had so cruelly snarled, anticipating Leo’s discovery of the corpses — and who, by the testimony of her own mother, was profoundly disengaged from the lives of her daughters, endlessly putting her own needs first.
Disregarding all of that, Stong extended to this vengefully embittered woman moral cover that all but made a mockery of the jury’s verdict, at the same time veering off into a completely inappropriate polemic, a non sequitur, on perceived social ills as contributing factors in Campione’s lethal behaviour — essentially putting the stamp of approval on a defence exculpation that the jury had just rejected.
“The circumstances of this case are undeniably and inordinately tragic,’’ Stong intoned from the bench. “One can only hope that they do not reflect, even at their most extreme, a direction of our society. One of the greatest challenges seen routinely and daily in our Family Courts dealing with the breakdown of the family unit is an increasing inability to make personal commitments, much less permanent commitments.’’
It was Elaine who left Leo, not the other way around, though she may have had good reasons for doing so. But that was not an issue — Leo Campione’s alleged violence toward his family — ever tested at this trial. He wasn’t called as a witness and never came to court, having stated long ago that he couldn’t bear to look at the woman who’d killed his precious girls.
Stong, reading from his peculiar dissertation, comments clearly prepared before the jury had returned with their verdict, continued: “Perhaps that is influenced by societal features such as their ‘throw away concept’ or the ‘disregard when no longer wanted approach,’ both of which impact not only on the environment but on building and maintaining even the most intimate of relationships.’’
What, in the name of heaven, does that even mean?
“Insofar as society is prepared to tolerate the degradation of some of its members, be it by proliferation of pornography on the Internet or by aggrandizement of violence such as permeates the entertainment industry and sometimes sports events, it owes an enhanced responsibility to its weaker and more vulnerable members who as victim/offenders act out of the expected norm.’’
With all due respect, the victims here were Serena and Sophia. There could be no more vulnerable among us than defenceless children — the girls Elaine Campione drowned, apparently Sophia first and then chasing Serena through their apartment because the little girl, as her mother would later tell a psychiatrist, “didn’t want to take her bath.’’
Sweet Jesus, the child must surely have sensed something awful had been done to her sister and the same was intended for her.
But Stong’s pity was for their mother.
“So during her stay in the penal system, Ms Campione is entitled to receive and so it is incumbent upon the federal system to provide her the necessary psychiatric treatment and medical care while in their custody needed to prepare her for any eventual return to society. That is the decision of the court.’’
Pornography, which Stong for some unfathomable reason found pertinent to address in his remarks, had no significance in the trial. From this reporter’s recollection of the evidence, Elaine Campione made one passing reference to porn during her videotaped diatribe — claiming that her husband looked at such material, which is hardly a crime. She mentioned it as casually as she criticized Leo for chewing his nails.
This jury had taken a long time considering the evidence, returning on the seventh day with its verdict, several declining to even look at Elaine when the foreman declared her guilty on two counts of first-degree murder. Stong then made another unusual order.
“The ordinarily, unimaginable facts of this case have had a physically and emotionally draining impact on you and I am therefore ordering the attorney general to provide at the expense of that ministry any counselling whatsoever and of whatever nature you may wish to seek as a result of serving as a juror on this case.’’
What followed thereafter was the request by lead crown counsel Enno Meijers for Leo Campione and his parents to make victim impact statements. Defence counsel Mary Cremer fiercely objected, pointing out that a conviction on first-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no parole for 25 years.
“It is not provided by the (Criminal) Code and is not an appropriate use of court’s resources in that juncture.’’
Yet victim impact statements are routinely permitted under these circumstances, most recently in the murder conviction of former Col. Russell Williams.
It was obvious, to me, that Cremer — who said afterwards she would appeal the conviction — was fighting mightily to deny Leo Campione his day in court, even suggesting that he might “issue a press release’’ instead.
Stong needed some convincing to allow the prosecution’s request. “There is no way I’m going to permit him . . . to make issues about what the jury has heard . . . when he wasn’t even called as a witness and cross-examined.’’
Him. He. The man has a name, as besmirched as it’s been in his absence.
And now, by virtue of a judge’s imprudent remarks, he’s also got a dreadful legacy: The father who didn’t kill his kids but has been blamed by proxy all the same.