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Christine LePage

Guilty of a crime or victim of an unscrupulous
'Mr. Big' sting?

Christine Lepage found guilty of murder

Christine LePage

Christine Lepage appeared stunned as a jury convicted her of murder that dates back more than two decades.

While in its fourth day of sequestered deliberation the jury came back with guilty verdicts in the April 28, 1981 murder of Germain Derome, a 56-year-old funeral home director and the attempted murder of his partner Julien Bessette.

Superior Court Justice W. Claude Décarie informed Lepage of the automatic life sentence, with no chance of parole until after having served 25 years, that accompanies a first-degree murder conviction

"I'm surprised that we've everything we presented not even a piece of doubt entered the minds of the jury," Olivier said adding he has already prepared an appeal based on evidence that was deemed inadmissible before the trial started. The evidence includes media interviews and police statements Bessette gave after Derome was killed.

Olivier said Bessette gave six different versions of what happened that night. Bessette, a television actor, died of cancer in 1999, when he was 69.

When Lepage testified in her defence she admitted to being at Derome's home the night of the murder but as a call girl. She said Derome had paid her up front for sex but Bessette walked in on them while they made small talk.

Lepage said she walked out on the pair while they argued. Her fingerprints were recovered from the scene but were not matched to her until 2000.

"I would have loved to have had Mr. Bessette (on the stand)," Olivier said. "Let's just say he would have had a long, long day with me."

Woman given life sentence for 1981 murder
Case of slain funeral director finally solved

MONTREAL -- It took nearly a quarter century and an RCMP sting for the law to catch up with Christine Lepage. Almost 24 years after the crime was committed, the 49-year-old woman was convicted yesterday of murder.

Ms. Lepage was led away from a Quebec courtroom to begin serving a life sentence for the death of Germain Derome, a funeral director she killed in 1981 after getting into his home by posing as a survey taker.

Ms. Lepage was also convicted of the attempted murder of actor Julien Bessette, Mr. Derome's live-in companion.

"Justice never stops advancing," Crown prosecutor Josée Grandchamp said in an interview after a jury delivered its verdict. "It's very comforting for family members to see that this whole story is finally solved."

Ms. Lepage's defence had suggested that Mr. Derome's partner, who died of cancer in 1999, was the killer. Mr. Bessette's relatives, who gathered at the Longueuil courthouse on Montreal's South Shore for yesterday's verdict, voiced relief that his name was cleared.

"I hope this verdict teaches a lesson to young people who've pulled off a dirty trick. They'll know that justice is fair and [the law] has a long arm," Mr. Bessette's niece, France Gosselin, told reporters.

Ms. Lepage, found guilty of first-degree murder, will be ineligible for parole for 25 years.

The case took a nine-month-long RCMP sting operation to help convict Ms. Lepage.

Jurors heard that in 1981, Ms. Lepage talked her way into the South Shore home of Mr. Derome, 55, by saying she was doing a survey on funeral homes. She had a glass of water before going to the bathroom, where she put on gloves and returned to shoot Mr. Derome and Mr. Bessette with a revolver.

Investigators lifted fingerprints off the glass but they went unmatched for 19 years because police ran them through a database that contained only men's fingerprints.

Police checked again in 2000 -- this time with women's fingerprints -- which led to an elaborate sting operation. In a secretly videotaped confession to an undercover RCMP officer posing as someone trying to recruit her for a criminal gang, Ms. Lepage admitted to the crime. She said she pulled the trigger for her "tough-guy" boyfriend and claimed she didn't know who ordered the murder, or why.

But "if someone is ready to kill you, it's because generally you're a damn backstabber," she concluded.

Ms. Lepage's defence was that she was at Mr. Derome's house not as a hit woman but as a call girl, and Mr. Bessette came in and surprised them. The defence also argued that the RCMP cornered her into confessing.

But Ms. Grandchamp, the prosecutor, said the defence's arguments were implausible and the RCMP video played a determinant role in Ms. Lepage's conviction.

The defence says it plans to appeal the verdict.

Jury must decide if woman was hired killer or call girl

MONTREAL -- Was Christine Lepage just a call girl? Or was she a female gun for hire?

For nearly two decades, the unsolved case sat in Denis Brunet's desk, haunting the crime-scene technician.

"For 19 years, each time I opened my drawer, I could see that file. I never forgot it," the now retired Mr. Brunet recalled recently.

He was testifying last month at the start of an extraordinary murder trial in Longueuil, south of Montreal.

A jury will begin deliberating this week the fate of Ms. Lepage, accused of the 1981 killing of funeral director Germain Derome.

Mr. Brunet had retrieved fingerprints on a glass at the scene of the crime and sent them to the RCMP but there was no match.

He later learned that the RCMP had searched only a database that held men's prints.

It was not until 2000 that another check led police to Ms. Lepage, whose prints had been on file since 1974, for shoplifting.

An elaborate sting operation was then initiated.

The Quebec Superior Court jury has been shown a 2002 RCMP videotape in which Ms. Lepage, now 49, bragged about carrying out a contract hit on Mr. Derome.

When she made those revelations, she thought she was speaking to a mobster.

But she had been duped into speaking to an undercover agent, and the conversation was secretly recorded.

On the videotape, she described how, on the evening of April 28, 1981, she was in Brossard, south of Montreal. Posing as a pollster, she persuaded Mr. Derome, 55, to let her into his house to conduct a survey.

She said she went to the bathroom, put on gloves and came out firing her revolver at Mr. Derome; his partner, 51-year-old actor Julien Bessette; and their German shepherd.

Defence lawyer Claude Olivier says his client was at Mr. Derome's house -- but as a call girl.

He says Mr. Derome was alive when she left, and he suggested, without naming him, that the now-deceased Mr. Bessette killed his partner out of jealousy.

Mr. Bessette told police at the time that the shooter was a young blond woman and that he survived by shielding himself behind a chair. He died of cancer in 1999 .

Ms. Lepage says she embroidered her recollections during the meeting that police videotaped because, thinking she was dealing with a gangster, she was afraid and wanted to look tough.

On the videotape, she tells the undercover agent that she carried out the killing at the behest of her "tough-guy" boyfriend of the time.

She did not know who had ordered the hit or why someone wanted Mr. Derome dead.

"I didn't even ask the question. Because it was clear for me, if someone is ready to kill you, it's because generally you're a damn backstabber," she says on the video.

She said she later burned the clothes she wore.

However, Mr. Brunet, working for Brossard Police, found her prints at the scene. Although he specified that the suspect was a woman, they were checked against a men's database and no match were made.

It was not until 2000 that a colleague of Mr. Brunet, working for the Sûreté du Québec, asked whether Mr. Brunet had old prints he wanted the provincial police to check. This led Brossard Police investigators to Ms. Lepage. But unable to buttress their case, they turned again to the RCMP.

The RCMP set up a nine-month sting that began in a similar fashion to the ruse Ms. Lepage is alleged to have used to enter Mr. Derome's house.

A female undercover agent visited Ms. Lepage by posing as a cosmetics saleswoman who wanted to conduct a survey.

Later, Ms. Lepage was told she had won a beauty-products contest that included a three-day trip.

During that trip, agents pretended to recruit her into what she thought was a criminal gang, eventually leading to the videotaped meeting with what she thought was the gang's boss.

Visit for sex, not murder, woman claims

Lepage accused of contract hit; Testifying in own defence, she tells jury she had visited victim as a call girl

Christine Lepage stood yesterday before the jury that will decide her fate and admitted to being in Germain Derome's house the night he was killed.

The 49-year-old also admitted to being paid to be at Derome's home that night in 1981, but not for the reasons that led her to be charged with Derome's murder.

The alleged hitwoman said her fingerprints were found on a glass at the scene of the fatal shooting because Derome paid to have sex with her and not because she was hired to kill him.

Lepage detailed in Quebec Superior Court how her life spiralled downward from 1979, when she was found to have cancer while pregnant. She and her husband split up, and she slipped into a depression.

Shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Lepage told her murder trial in Longueuil yesterday, she essentially ended up homeless and contacted an old friend who owned a call-girl agency. By September 1980 she was working as a prostitute.

On April 28, 1981, the night Derome was killed, Lepage said she "did two clients" before being chauffeured to a home in Brossard about 9:30. "I recognized the house because I had worked there before - about two weeks before," Lepage said.

She said Derome, a funeral director, paid her $110 up front and offered her a drink. She declined and asked for a glass of water. As they sat in the living room making small talk, a man walked in.

"(Derome) jumped out of his seat like he wasn't expecting him," Lepage said, adding she would later learn the man was Derome's live-in partner, television actor Julien Bessette.

"He asked, 'What is she doing here?' " she told the jury. Derome told Bessette she was doing a survey about funeral homes.

Lepage said she decided to play along with what Derome said but left the house quickly as Bessette and Derome argued.

When she got back inside her chauffeur's car, he remarked that she had been with her client for only 10 minutes.

"I told him his boyfriend walked in on us. We even laughed about it," Lepage said, adding she was then driven to another customer's home. After that she went to a brasserie and then home to sleep.

When she woke up the next morning, news that Derome had been killed was on television. From the reports, she realized Bessette was claiming a woman had slain Derome.

"I knew it was going to be put on my back," she said.

Bessette died in 1999 of cancer.

Lepage's lawyer, Claude Olivier, then asked why she didn't go to the police immediately. She said her boyfriend at the time told her the police would never believe a call girl.

Earlier in the trial, while cross-examining police investigators, Olivier highlighted inconsistencies in Bessette's statements after the murder.

Lepage's fingerprint was lifted from the glass but it wasn't matched to her until 2000. The Brossard police then asked the RCMP to set up an elaborate sting operation to make Lepage believe she was being recruited into a major crime gang.

The operation ended with Lepage's arrest after she was videotaped admitting to carrying out a contract to kill Derome.

But the version of events to which she admitted contradicts much of what actually occurred.

For example, Lepage told the man who she thought was "Mr. Big" of the organization that she threw the firearm in a river. The weapon was actually recovered near Derome's home.

Asked why she would admit to "Dan", who she believed was the head of a criminal gang, that she committed a murder, Lepage said she feared for her life.

She said the RCMP's double agents were so convincing, she thought her life was in jeopardy. She said she believed people who worked in crime gangs that big usually end up dead.

Lepage said she went to a Nov. 21, 2002, meeting with the "Mr. Big" intent on leaving his gang. She had been told by another double agent that "Dan" had the power to "erase" crimes.

As the police videotaped the meeting, "Dan" confronted her about the 1981 killing and pretended he had got the information from a police source.

Lepage said she felt the only way out was to own up to the killing, hoping they would no longer be interested in her because of the attention it would draw on them.

Final arguments are to begin tomorrow.

Fingerprints matched by new Equipment

CANADA - A 20-year-old murder case has finally led to charges, and the forthcoming trial could answer the still cloudy question of motive.

Why was Germain Derome, a soft-spoken funeral-home director, gunned down at the Brossard home he shared with a well-known Quebec actor?

Longueuil police, who arrested Christine Lepage, 47, Thursday night near her east-end Montreal residence, were not speculating yesterday on motive in this case.

But they attributed Lepage's arrest to the merger of South Shore police forces and a decision in June to take another stab at solving this and other cold cases.

According to police and the late actor Julien Bessette, who shared the house with Derome, 55, a slight, blond female came to the door and asked for water.

When she got it, she pumped two bullets from a semi-automatic .22-calibre pistol into Derome, a third into the rump of their 5-year-old German shepherd, Santa, who was not seriously hurt, and fired a fourth shot at Bessette.

Bessette, who was playing the role of a priest on the weekly television program Terre Humaine, suffered a cut on the forehead from a piece of wood sent flying when a bullet hit a chair.

Bessette - well known for his roles in the long-running Radio-Canada television series Les Belles Histoires des Pays d'en Haut and Le Sorcier - agreed to take a lie-detector test, which cleared him of any suspicion. (He died of throat cancer at age 69 in March 1999.)

In June, Longueuil police called on the sophisticated fingerprint-matching services of the Sûreté du Québec and RCMP to get a match, which led them to identify a suspect. "We had some leads, but never were able to match the fingerprints on the glass," said Longueuil police Constable Pierre Quintal.

But with the match, police tracked down the suspect. "We do not know the motives for the crime, though robbery is not one of them," Quintal added.

Lepage was arraigned in Quebec Court in Longueuil yesterday on charges of first-degree murder, plotting to commit the crime with one Benoît Baillargeon, since deceased, and using a weapon while committing a criminal act. She is scheduled to appear in court for her preliminary hearing Dec. 5.

'Make-believe' world trapped alleged assassin

MONTREAL (CNS) -- Quebec RCMP created an elaborate "make-believe" underworld in an effort to ensnare an alleged female assassin, the jury heard Thursday at the murder trial of Christine Lepage.

Lepage, 49, is charged with first-degree murder in the April 1981 death of Germain Derome, 57, in his home on the south shore of Montreal.

Serge Coulombe, the man responsible for creating such make-believe worlds for the RCMP's economic crimes division in Quebec, told Quebec Superior Court how the Mounties got her to confess to "Mr. Big" of a fictional criminal organization.

Lepage's fingerprints were lifted from a glass at the scene of Derome's murder over two decades ago. But the police only matched her fingerprints to those stored in a police database during the summer of 2000. By then, Derome's partner Julien Bessette -- the only eyewitness to the crime -- had died of cancer.

To get more evidence, the Brossard police asked the RCMP for help in getting someone to win Lepage's confidence.

"It's like writing a book, with chapters that follow one another," Coulombe said in describing the series of "scenarios" undercover agents put Lepage through for months before setting her up for a meeting with a man they nicknamed "Mr. Big."

The RCMP's operation began with surveillance on Lepage for more than two months in 2001.

He explained that Lepage was asked to do a variety of tasks that created the appearance she was becoming part of a crime gang.

After a few months, the RCMP felt Lepage was ready to meet "Mr. Big." The premise in the scenario was that he would pretend to be someone who didn't want people in his organization who drew police attention.

Coulombe said that during the meeting, "Mr. Big" told Lepage he had a police source who informed him she was a suspect in a 1981 murder in Brossard, Que. To stay in his organization she would have to tell him what she knew of this.

That is where Coulombe's testimony ended Thursday.

In her opening statements to the jury earlier this week Crown prosecutor Josee Grandchamp said Lepage admitted to murdering Derome to the undercover agent.