This page is dedicated to the coverage of my first high-profile murder court case for the Post: The trial of Elaine Campione.
Footage from Elaine Campione’s interrogation was released to the media on Wednesday.
Elspeth Lodge November 18, 2010 – 6:01 pm
Latimer said that higher courts have repeatedly found that an open court system in a democratic society is “paramount.” With this argument she persuaded the judge to allow CBC and CTV to make copies of the footage — despite the Crown and the defense’s concern that a clip showing baby Sophia in the bathtub would fall into the hands of people intending to use it as “child porn.”
After the court order a media frenzy ensued — every outlet wanted rights to the videos after the CBC and CTV victory. After a few hours of confusion and much discussion, other media outlets gained access as long as they abided by the same media restrictions in the court order. Restrictions on the video are clear: “no copies are to be made of any exhibits that depict the victims once deceased; the scenes of Sophia in the bathtub are to be pixilated to obliterate their identity.”
The videos below are edited highlights from both Campione’s disturbing confession and her interrogation.
Kenyon Wallace And Elspeth Lodge, National Post, with files from Tamsin McMahon · Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010
It begins as a scene repeated in a thousand home videos: two little girls, the eldest running to see the pink bike she got for her birthday. The youngest, barely a toddler, singing lullabies in the bathtub, her big round eyes smiling at the camera.
“How much do you love momma?” Elaine Campione asks 3-year-old Serena, who throws her hands open wide. “Is that it?” she asks again. “You don’t love me to the moon and back?”
What comes next destroyed a Barrie father and sent his estranged wife to prison for life.
In a video released by the court, Ms. Campione tosses a toy to the floor — a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal Serena was filmed dancing with seconds before. Her tired face crumples as she sinks into a couch and unleashes a venomous tirade against her former husband just moments after she held her baby girls under water in the bathtub until they drowned.
“Leo, there, are you happy?” she spews at the camera. “Everything’s gone…. The idea that you could actually have my children–God believes me and God’s taking care of them now.”
Campione was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years, for the murders of her two daughters, Serena, and Sophia, 19 months.
The sentence came during an emotional day in court that heard victim impact statements from Campione’s estranged husband, Leo Campione, and his family.
Campione sat stone-faced as lead Crown attorney, Enno Meijers, read a victim impact statement from Mr. Campione that said he will be haunted forever by the images of the girls’ last moments, videotaped just before they died.
“Serena and Sophia were my life and they still are,” Mr. Campione wrote. “I miss the times I would come home from work and see them run to the door, hands in the air calling, ‘Daddy Daddy!’ No matter how tired I was, picking them up always gave me strength. I know they loved me and were always happy to see me.”
It was the first time Mr. Campione’s voice was heard at the two-month trial of his former wife. Mr. Campione has not been present in the court; he hasn’t seen her in four years since the bodies of his two little girls were discovered, killed by the hand of their own mother.
Defence lawyer Mary Cremer had argued throughout the two-month trial that Campione was suffering from a mental illness and therefore should not be held criminally responsible for the deaths of her daughters.
Indeed, in the year before she killed the children, the woman had been hospitalized three times for various psychiatric breakdowns.
But the argument wasn’t enough to convince the jury that Campione didn’t know what she was doing when, on Oct. 2, 2006, she drowned Serena and Sophia in the bathtub of her Coulter Street apartment.
After they were dead, she dressed them in pajamas, laid them down on her bed and wove rosary beads through their hands.
She then filmed herself uttering a lengthy verbal attack against her estranged husband, to whom she feared she would lose custody of the children. A family court hearing over the girls’ future had been scheduled for two days later.
“You’re a hideous monster….” she says on the video. “You’re a horrible, evil man.”
Ms. Cremer has said she is exploring options for appealing the verdict.
A second victim impact statement, simply signed “The Campione Family,” spoke of two little girls whose presence “lit up a room,” whose attitudes “lit up our hearts.”
“Four years have passed since we tragically lost our precious Serena and Sophia, yet the pain has not subsided,” the family wrote. “Our time with them was cut short, our hearts broken, our lives shattered.”
Outside court Wednesday, Mr. Meijers spoke of how the case had left “gaping wounds” in the lives of the Campione family and the community.
“It’s our hope that these wounds can begin to heal now that the trial has been completed,” he said. “In our opinion, the verdicts rendered in this case were just and were amply supported by the evidence that was called at trial. Our thoughts are with the family of Serena and Sophia who will continue to deal with their grievous loss long after the trial has completed.”
During the trial, the defence argued that Campione was a battered woman, allegedly beaten by her former husband, and how as a young girl, Campione had written in a journal of being sexually abused by a man on a New Brunswick farm where she worked.
Excerpt of victim impact statement from the Campione family
“Four years have passed since we tragically lost our precious Serena and Sophia, yet the pain has not subsided. We miss their laughter, their smiles and their love for life. Their mere presence lit up a room, their joyous attitude lit up our hearts. Our time with them was cut short, our hearts broken, our lives shattered. The emptiness of losing Serena and Sophia is something we live with every day, however the joy and memories we shared with them will live on in our hearts forever.”
Excerpt of victim impact statement from Leo Campione
“Serena and Sophia were my life and they still are. I miss the times I would come home from work and see them run to the door, hands in the air calling Daddy Daddy. No matter how tired I was, picking them up always gave me strength. I know they loved me and were always happy to see me. I found my place in life and my peace was with them. Above all else in life, nothing brought peace to me like they did from their loving embrace … The images of their last moments will haunt me forever, in ways I can’t begin to describe. I see Serena and Sophia in my mind every day and I carry them in my heart until we reunite again. I live my life and gain my strength in knowing with each passing day, I am one day closer to being with them.”
Mother guilty of drowning her little girls
Kenyon Wallace And Elspeth Lodge, National Post · Monday, Nov. 15, 2010
Jurors wept on Monday as they convicted a Barrie mother of two counts of first-degree murder for drowning her two little girls in the family bathtub four years ago.
Elaine Campione, 35, wept, too, as she learned how she will likely spend the next 25 years of her life: behind bars.
Looking pale, thin and exhausted, Campione hunched forward as she cried, her long dark hair falling over her shoulders onto her baby-blue collared shirt.
“The circumstances of this case are undeniably and inordinately tragic,” Judge Alfred Stong told the crowded courtroom. “One can only hope that they do not reflect, even at their most extreme, a direction of our society.”
A few women on the jury wiped tears from their eyes as Justice Stong read the verdict after nearly seven days of deliberations, while Ms. Campione’s parents, sitting in the front row, were visibly shaken at the news. They have been by their daughter’s side the whole trial, forming a close relationship with her defenders, waiting patiently to hear what fate awaited their child.
Defence lawyer Mary Cremer described her client, who had been treated for depression, as a person “ravaged by mental illness.”
“This was an illness that she never asked to get,” she told reporters after the verdict. “It was an illness that unfortunately overtook her to the point where she just became sicker and sicker and sicker.”
In the year before she killed three-year-old Serena and 19-month-old Sophia, Campione had been hospitalized three times for various psychiatric breakdowns. She tried to kill herself. She believed she was being followed by men who wanted to kill her. She thought aliens were visiting earth. She believed red symbolized blood andforbade Serena from touching anything of that colour.
During the trial, the jury heard how Campione wrote in a journal that she was sexually abused as a child in her native New Brunswick by a man who owned a farm where she did chores.
“It is more than disconcerting to think that if Campione had not been so abused, so used and discarded as a person, her two daughters could still be alive,” Judge Stong said.
The jury put the most stock in the Crown’s submission blaming Campione’s intense hatred for her estranged and allegedly abusive husband, Leo Campione. The drownings came shortly before she was to head to family court for a custody hearing.
She held them under the water in the bathtub of her Coulter Street apartment in Barrie. She then dressed them in pajamas, lay them down on her bed and wove rosary beads through their cold, lifeless hands. She called police two days later.
A home video, which Campione filmed the night she killed her children, shows a vindictive, angry woman. The footage begins with baby Sophia playing in the bathtub, laughing, smiling. Cut to an hour later, and the children are dead.
“Are you happy now?” Campione spews at the camera in a message intended for her husband. “You can visit them in their caskets.”
Campione will be formally sentenced on Wednesday, when her husband is expected to read a victim impact statement to the court. The judge said the Ministry of the Attorney-General will be responsible for covering the cost of any counselling jury members need after the two-month trial.
Rosemary Gartner, a criminology professor at the University of Toronto, likened the verdict to others in similar murder cases on Monday.
“In cases of mothers killing their kids, juries tend to have extreme emotional reactions. One reaction is that anybody who does something like this is obviously a bit crazy and deserves sympathy. The other side says, well, this is clearly the devil,” said Professor Gartner.
The former reaction is a legal phenomenon known as “jury nullification,” where a jury will take into account mitigating factors, such as mental illness, or will even take pity on a young mother, and hand out a reduced sentence, as in the case of Andrea Yates, a Houston, Tex., mother who drowned her five children in her home’s bathtub in June 2001.
Ms. Yates was originally convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison, but a jury overturned the verdict on appeal in 2006, ruling she was not guilty by reason of insanity.
In 2008, an Ontario Superior Court jury found Xuan Linda Peng guilty of second-degree murder for drowning her four-year-old daughter Scarlett in the bathtub of her family’s Toronto home four years earlier. She had originally been charged with first-degree murder.