Col. Russell Williams, once a well-respected commander in the Canadian air force, appeared in court via video to face first-degree murder charges Thursday looking a shadow of his former self.
Williams appeared briefly from the nearby Quinte Detention Centre, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and appearing unshaven. He sauntered toward the camera and stood stooped in front of it, with none of the crispness Canadians are used to seeing from military officers.
He let out a heavy sigh before stating his full name – David Russell Williams – on the record.
The quick appearance illustrated Williams’ sudden and shocking fall from the upper echelons of Canada’s military. A military officer assigned to report back on the proceedings said he was to visit Williams in jail Thursday to officially relieve him of his duties as commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton.
Lt. Col. Tony O’Keeffe has known Williams for nine years and said the man on the courtroom screen didn’t look like the “compassionate” Williams he knows.
“He just looks tired and that’s a novelty for the man I know that was able to handle (multiple) tasks of varying complexity,” O’Keeffe said outside court.
“He’s an intellect. He’s a professional. He’s a friend to me. I don’t know what else to say.”
CFB Trenton will hold a ceremony Friday to mark Col. Dave Cochrane officially taking command. Williams will for now continue to be paid as he has not been convicted of any offence, O’Keeffe said.
Williams’ case was put over until March 25, when he will appear in court in Belleville again via video.
Meanwhile, provincial police continued to search Williams’ home in nearby Tweed, Ont. An officer could be seen bringing a large brown paper bag out of the home and using a small camcorder to film inside and outside a shed on the property. By early afternoon two officers left in a forensic identification van, leaving only a couple of officers outside the home guarding the property cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape.
O’Keeffe also knows Williams’ wife, calling the couple’s relationship “like any dedicated married couple,” and said he has spoken briefly with her.
“She’s an admirable, remarkable lady,” O’Keeffe said of Mary Elizabeth Harriman, an associate executive director at the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Ottawa.
“She’s handling things very well, considering.”
Williams, 46, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Cpl. Marie-France Comeau of Brighton and Jessica Lloyd of Belleville, who was killed in late January.
He is also charged with two counts each of forcible confinement, break and enter and sexual assault relating to the attacks on women during home invasions in Tweed on Sept. 17 and Sept. 30.
Williams has hired high-profile Ottawa lawyer Michael Edelson to handle his case, although Edelson sent an agent to court for Thursday’s hearing.
Comeau, 37, was found dead in her home in Brighton, Ont., last November. She was a flight attendant at CFB Trenton and served aboard the same military VIP flights Williams piloted for much of the 1990s, ferrying the Governor General, the prime minister and other dignitaries on domestic and overseas trips.
Lloyd’s body was found in Tweed two weeks after the 27 year old failed to show up at her job in Napanee.
Police have said they don’t expect to release the cause of death of either Lloyd or Comeau, but various media have quoted sources as saying the women were asphyxiated.
According to a search warrant issued before Williams emerged as the primary suspect in the cases, detectives entered the home of a prior suspect looking for lingerie, baby blankets and computer data storage devices.
The warrant was related to the attacks on the two women who were bound and sexually assaulted in their homes. Both women lived within walking distance of the Williams’ cottage.