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Canada: Holly's killer blames child pornography

Publish Date: 18 Jun 2004

New calls for tougher laws as 'ashamed' Briere pleads guilty

June 18, 2004
Source: Allan Woods, National Post; with files from Nicholas Kohler

TORONTO - Michael Briere, a 36-year-old software developer, pleaded guilty yesterday to the murder of Holly Jones, saying he was driven to abduct and sexually assault the 10-year-old girl after viewing child pornography.

The precedent-setting case is the first time in Canada that such an explicit cause-and-effect relationship has been drawn between the consumption of child pornography and the sexual brutalization of a child, drawing calls from police and lawyers for tougher penalties for those who produce, access and trade it with others.

On May 12, 2003, the night of her death, Holly was walking home from a friend's house -- a five-minute journey -- when she was snatched off the street, forced into Briere's west Toronto apartment, raped and then strangled.

Almost one year to the day that he was arrested, Briere broke down in Ontario Superior Court in front of more than 200 spectators, including members of Holly's distraught family and their tearful friends. He said his crime "was the act of a coward.

"I take no pride in what I have done," he said after a 61-page statement of facts was read aloud in court. "The truth is that I am ashamed beyond belief. I regret everything. I am so sorry. I really wish I could undo everything. I have failed as a human being."

Holly's mother, Maria, and her family left the courtroom while Briere spoke. The girl's father, George Stonehouse, did not attend the hearing because he was too emotionally volatile, said Tim Danson, the family's lawyer.

"This person that appears in court today has affected all of our family's hearts in ways no one can imagine. I live with a fear that surrounds me day after day," Maria Jones said in a victim impact statement read by assistant Crown attorney Hank Goody.

"Mother's and Father's Day will never be the same. There is a sickness that now lives inside my stomach, pain that lives in my heart, horror in my mind and a hell that surrounds my body."

Mr. Justice David Watt sentenced Briere to the maximum penalty for first-degree murder: life imprisonment in a federal penitentiary for 25 years. He will be eligible for full release on June 20, 2028.

While Briere can apply for parole under the "faint hope clause" in 15 years, Judge Watt warned: "It is one thing to apply. It is another thing to receive."

Briere portrayed himself as a remorseful man caught in the grips of an addiction to child pornography when he decided to act on a lifelong "fantasy of having sexual relations with a little girl."

He told police in a videotaped statement hours after he was arrested on June 20, 2003, that his was a crime of opportunity.

"I didn't pick her for any special reason ... it's not like I was pinpointing this little girl," he told police. "That night, I must have viewed some [pornographic] material beforehand. And I just got excited ... I just went out. I really wanted to do it. Not the ... killing part. But I really wanted to have sex with a child. And that was all-consuming."

He found Holly walking on the street outside his apartment, grabbed her by the back of the neck, like "a father scolding a child who had done something bad," and led her to his apartment nearby.

He decided he was going to kill Holly "probably when I was walking her to my place. I think at that point, I realized it's already too late," he said.

Once Briere had Holly inside, he locked the doors, took her to his bedroom and unsuccessfully attempted to rape her before strangling her in his bed.

Of the attempted rape, he said: "I have had the desire to have a sexual relationship with a young child for the longest time, and you think it's going to be a pleasurable experience.... And that one just turned out to be a nightmare of an experience.... I understand that the whole thing is sickening to 99.9% of the people.... I say it understanding that, but it was a nightmare."

He told police that he placed Holly's body inside his refrigerator to prevent detection until he could dispose of her remains, which he began doing the following morning.

That day, on May 13, a search for the little girl turned into a search for her killer when a black bag containing the girl's torso, and later a suitcase containing her severed head and arms, were discovered at two locations on the Toronto waterfront.

Examination of the remains revealed human hair and green-coloured fibres consistent with cheap carpeting or a bath mat. Under her fingernails there was human blood that provided the conclusive evidence that led police to Holly's killer.

Briere, as one of just a few to refuse giving a DNA sample during an extensive police canvass of the neighbourhood, became "a person of interest" to the Toronto police's Holly Jones Task Force. When police surveillance crews retrieved a discarded Pepsi can and, later, a drinking straw used by Briere, they were able to forensically confirm those suspicions with a DNA match.

He confessed his crime immediately after being arrested while on his way to work on June 20 and has been held in super-protective pre-trial custody in Toronto's Don Jail since.

"As I said in court, Holly caught Mr. Briere," Crown attorney Paul Culver said outside court yesterday. "Holly provided beneath her fingernails the blood of Mr. Briere that allowed the police to connect the dots to get to Mr. Briere."

Police have never recovered Holly's legs, which had been cut up and were removed by a municipal garbage crew.

A statement prepared by Maria Jones and read at a news conference after court yesterday called for a government crackdown on child pornography.

"Child pornography is the link between Mr. Briere and Holly's brutal death. Let us understand child pornography for what it is," the statement read.

The family is preparing a package of suggested legislative reform, to be known as Holly's Law, to be presented to Parliament in the fall.

It will call for tougher child pornography laws, DNA legislation forcing offenders to give samples even for crimes that predate the law, an improved national sexual-assault registry and the implementation of a national dangerous-sexual-predator law.

"This [case] proves [child pornography] is not OK," said Staff Inspector Bruce Smollett, of the Toronto Police sex crimes unit. "We just convicted some incarnation of evil, and this country needs to step up to the plate and start protecting our kids a lot more than we have been doing."

But Briere, everyone involved in prosecuting this case admits, would not have been caught by a DNA database nor a sex offender registry. At the time of his arrest, he had little more than a parking ticket.

The statement of facts described him as "a man so seemingly ordinary and nondescript as to have gone essentially unnoticed, both before and immediately after he committed his horrendous crime."

© National Post 2004