“Mr. Toussignant,” the crown prosecutor started, “did you or did you not in September of last year contact people associated with Abdul Bédard-Lellouche, now deceased?”
“What was the reason for this contact?”
“I wanted them to kill my parents and make it look like they had died of natural causes or, failing that, had committed suicide.”
“Are you aware that it is wrong to kill people?”
“Were you aware, at that time, that it is wrong to kill people?”
“Yes. There was never any doubt in my mind about that.”
“So you understand the difference between right and wrong.”
“You always understood that.”
“Including when you contacted the people who would kill your parents.”
“You understand the significance of what you are saying now?”
“Yes. I understand. What I am saying now is that I am the one responsible for hiring the people who killed my parents by administering a lethal dose of drugs to them.”
“So you are confessing to a double murder.”
“No, not really. I would like to explain what I mean by making a statement.”
The crown prosecutor had been expecting the accused to make a long speech, and had previously conferred with Paul Smith and the judge on the proper way to handle this possibility. Paul Smith had confirmed that a speech was part of the defence strategy, and that the accused was entitled to make his case for his defence. The judge had worried about her courtroom turning into a platform for something extra-judicial and had warned Smith to advise his client to keep his speech to facts that were relevant to the case. Smith had assured the judge that his client did not intend to turn the courtroom into a circus, that he was quite respectful of the need for decorum, and that he was furthermore very aware that the jury could probably not be expected to keep paying attention to a speech that went on too long, and that the accused had prepared himself accordingly. But he had also reminded the crown prosecutor and the judge that to send a man to jail for the rest of his life without giving him a proper chance to make his case would not serve the interests of justice so the three of them had come to a grudging agreement that they would trust Smith to keep his client on the right side of court decorum and see what happened.
The crown prosecutor glanced at the bench, and saw the judge’s signal. “Your Honour, the Crown is satisfied that the material evidence and the sworn confession the accused just made constitute proof of his guilt in the murder of his parents. We do not object to the wishes of the accused to make a statement in his own defence.”
“Very well,” the judge said. “Mr. Toussignant, I understand you have prepared this statement thoroughly.”
“Yes, Your Honour.”
“I also understand that your lawyer has briefed you on the proper format for such a statement.”
“Yes, Your Honour. I am aware of the rules and I will do my best to respect them. My statement will take some time, but it will consist of elements that are relevant to my defence. I want the jury to understand why I did what I did.”
“Very well, Mr. Toussignant, you may proceed.”
“Thank you. I want to take a quick moment first to thank the jury in advance for being patient with me. My statement will be long and it will contain details that will not be pleasant to hear. I would also like to take a moment to thank my sister, Nathalie, and apologize to her publicly for all the pain I have caused her. Nathalie is the only good person in my family, and I hope nobody judges her badly because of my actions.”
Marc gripped Nathalie’s hand when he heard Jeff say her name. She had tears in her eyes but she managed not to fall apart. She simply nodded her acknowledgment. Some in the jury turned to look at her, some chose to keep their eyes on the accused. Among those who looked was a woman whose troubled sister had died of a drug overdose in what the family largely considered a suicide. She looked at Nathalie and felt like hugging her, then wondered if this was an appropriate reaction for a juror. She didn’t know. She wasn’t sure she cared.
“I stand here today accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of my parents. I am not denying the material evidence. I did hire people to give lethal drugs to my parents in their nursing homes. They were supposed to make it look like my mother had died of natural causes, and my father of a broken heart a week later. Originally that is what everyone thought had happened.
“At first I was upset with my actions. I did not experience sadness when my mother died, nor did I experience regrets for what had happened to her and what I knew was going to happen to my father a few days later. I was the only one, save for the people I had hired, who knew he was condemned to follow his wife to the grave. That knowledge made it hard for me to react normally to what had happened, and I remember my sister and her partner trying to talk me into being more present for my father. They meant well but it was too late for me to try to behave like a normal son should.
“I was upset by my actions because causing someone to die is a very unpleasant experience. I realize it’s worse from the point of view of the person who dies, but in my heart my feelings were mixed. While I did not regret having caused the death of my mother and did not wish to stop the death of my father, I felt a great heavy weight in my heart. I knew I had done something wrong, and regretted having come to the point where having them killed was necessary to my own mental and emotional well-being. I considered the whole affair a sordid tragedy that could, and should, have been avoided.
“Then my father died and a day or so after he was discovered lifeless in his bed I remember feeling better. I wasn’t happy, of course, but I felt relieved. Like this huge weight that was making my heart ache was suddenly starting to lift. I still regretted having had to come to the point where I had to do something so wrong as to have them killed, but now that the deed was done I felt I could breathe better.
“It was surreal to go through the funeral and the visitation. People were trying to comfort me, thinking I must be shocked and sad, of course, but I wasn’t. I probably looked very weird, in fact, because I couldn’t even fake sadness.”
Nathalie let a tiny yelp escape her mouth. She did remember how odd he was, she did remember how much she’d wanted to scream at him to be less out of it and help her deal with things. She had no idea at the time he was responsible for their deaths, obviously, and had forgotten that detail in the months since his arrest, but it’s true that he had looked very weird at the funeral.
“Then life went on,” Jeff continued, “and for a while it looked like I had been successful. Everyone had bought the theory that my mother died of old age and my father died because he couldn’t go on without her. They were gone, I was free, I could finally start living.
“But of course that wasn’t going to be, thanks to a pretty stubborn cop who kept asking questions. You know how she uncovered the network, and how that led her to my parents’ case and my arrest. I did not resist when I was arrested, and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been pretty cooperative with the requirements of the justice system ever since. I understand what I did was wrong, and if the jury finds me guilty I will take the punishment. But even though I know what I did was wrong, in my heart I will never be guilty. Here’s why.
“I was brought up by parents who did not love me. My father was always indifferent to his children, seeing them mostly as the cause of great expenditures of money and also as little beings that were loud and scratched the furniture. He never abused me sexually, and as far as I know never touched my sister in that way either. But he sure beat us when he thought we needed it, which was quite often, in my recollection anyway.
“I’m talking about big spanks that would leave red marks for hours. I’m talking about being hit with a belt, or a strap, or a wooden ruler. Across the buttocks, across the back, across the shoulders, on the hands. When I got older and bigger he also started hitting me in the face. He always said it was to discipline me, and I have no doubt there were times I needed disciplining. I was certainly not perfect as a child, and I’m certainly not perfect now. But I always resented being hit like that.
The room was very silent.
“Especially as he would often hit us on my mother’s say-so, without hearing our side of the story first. He’d get home from work and she’d immediately complain about something I’d done earlier that day and that was enough for him to punish us. He never checked to see if we had anything to say for ourselves, if perhaps she was exaggerating, or anything like that. He took his wife’s word for it. I especially resented never having a chance to present my side, to make my case, before being punished. That is one reason why I insisted so much on making this statement today. I needed to be heard.”
There were a few reserved smiles in the audience, despite the gravity of what was being said.
“I don’t remember my father ever hugging me, or telling me he loved me or was proud of me.
“My mother was also unloving. I see my sister hugging and kissing her kids whenever she gets a chance, and smiling at them and stroking their faces gently or just holding them, and I say to myself, ‘Man, that’s what a mom should be like.’ Moms should make their kids feel loved. Because moms are there to teach children what love is supposed to feel like.
“Mine never did that. I don’t know where my sister learned to love her kids and her partner, but I can tell you I was never able to keep girlfriends around very long. I’m pretty sure it’s mostly my fault, too. I don’t know how to love.
“It’s pretty rotten, to grow up not feeling loved, but there is worse. I was the first child and my mother was highly disappointed I was not a daughter. She’d wanted one so bad. She resented me for being a boy. I know this because she often told me. She would say things like, ‘Well, Jeff, if only you were a girl, you wouldn’t be such a big problem for me…’ She would very often remind me how stressful her life was because of me. How disappointing I was. How much of a burden my existence was to her.
“I grew up unloved but also resented. And of course nothing I ever did was good enough for my parents. My sister told you we had a nasty falling-out after I left for college and that is true, we did. They wanted me to study something serious and I was only interested in English. We had a series of big fights about it, because they did not want to help me pay for my degree, since they considered it a waste of time and money. They would have helped me pay for a law degree or an engineering one or something useful like that, but not an English major. So I told them to keep their money and I left. It was the first time I’d really stood up to them and they did not take it well, to say the least.
“They became hostile to all my life choices, and there isn’t one thing I did since college that my parents did not criticize. This lasted all the way until they died. The last time I visited my mother she commented that I looked pale and tired and shouldn’t spend so much time indoors. The time before that she said I was gaining weight and should stop eating junk food. Every time I wrote something she said it wasn’t to her taste. She never, ever, praised anything I did. Ever.”
Jeff took a moment to look at every member of the jury, one after the other. Most of them held his gaze, except for two women who couldn’t. He had done all he could, now it was up to them.
“I have spent the last two months writing the story of my life in very minute and quite painful detail. It is my intention to have this book published, in part as an explanation for what I did but mostly as a warning to parents out there never to forget that children need love. That they can have food and shelter and toys and trips to Disney and be miserable anyway if they are not loved.
“I do not know whether I will be free or behind bars when this book comes out. That is up to you to decide. But no matter where I end up, I promise you this: I will devote the rest of my life to this cause, in one way or another. If my warnings save even just one child from growing up the way I did, it will have been worth it. Thank you. I have nothing more to say.”
None of the lawyers had questions for the accused, so Her Honour adjourned.
It was up to the jury now.