Crown seeks 15-year prison term for Edmonton father who sexually abused 3 children

·3 min read
Convicted sex abuser Helmut Berndt in undated photos. (Submitted by Juanita Falkingham - image credit)
Convicted sex abuser Helmut Berndt in undated photos. (Submitted by Juanita Falkingham - image credit)

Retired Edmonton lawyer Helmut Berndt will be sentenced next week for sexually abusing his three children over a 15-year period.

In April, a jury found Berndt, 73, guilty on five sex-related charges, including sexual assault, sexual interference and sexual exploitation. Berndt abused his two daughters and one son between 1986 and 2001.

Crown prosecutor Mark Huyser-Wierenga is seeking a 15-year prison term for what he described in court Friday as "the selfish criminality of the accused to sexually gratify himself."

He said Berndt victimized his innocent children "hundreds of times."

Defence lawyer Brian Beresh urged the court to impose a sentence of no more than eight years, taking into consideration his client's advanced age.

"The sentence proposed by the prosecution … would exceed my client's normal life expectancy or come very close to it," Beresh said.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Earl Wilson will deliver his sentence June 9.

Before the trial began, Berndt's victims successfully applied to have a mandatory publication ban lifted.

On Friday, all three delivered their victim impact statements.

Submitted by Juanita Falkingham
Submitted by Juanita Falkingham

"This is not my shame to bear," Juanita Falkingham, 40, told the court. "I did nothing wrong but have my childhood and innocence stolen. This shame is now for Helmut to bear."

Her younger brother delivered his victim impact statement via WebEx from Toronto.

"What he did to me destroyed my entire life," Cedric Shui said. "The fact that I survived and moved on is entirely in spite of what he did to me and is a matter of luck more than anything else."

Shui, 38, told the court that he used to worry he would turn out like his father and hurt someone, so he stayed away from his nieces and nephews.

Berndt's youngest child, Lavinia Perreault, 36, had difficulty composing herself on the witness stand as she prepared to deliver her victim impact statement.

Outside court, she told CBC News that she almost lost control when she made a point of looking her father in the eye.

"I just wanted him to know from my expression and my eyes, I just wanted him to know, 'I'm not afraid of you and I want you to hear my words,'" Perreault said.

In her victim impact statement, Perreault revealed that as a teenager she kept a bread knife beside her bed and began to cut herself. "He finally left the house and I stopped cutting."

Submitted by Lavinia Perreault
Submitted by Lavinia Perreault

Both sisters told CBC News their father showed no expression while he listened to their victim impact statements.

No apology for daughters in court

Beresh told the judge that his client was not a threat.

"Why would I work on the assumption he's not a threat?" Wilson responded. "He's debauched his three children, for God's sakes."

Beresh clarified there was no evidence of continuing threats and the judge agreed.

Berndt addressed the court after an invitation from the judge.

"In the last few years, I learned how much [my children] hate me and despise me," Berndt said. "I was devastated, and still am, by that knowledge.

"I was even more devastated by the realization that my dear wife Rosalind, who has loved them as only a mother can …is now caught in that circle as well."

Supplied by Juanita Falkingham
Supplied by Juanita Falkingham

Berndt begged his children to take care of their mother while he is behind bars.

Both his daughters noted that Berndt did not apologize.

"I was shocked that he even spoke and said something," Perreault told CBC News. "Half of me is waiting for that acknowledgement and apology that will never come."

Wilson ordered that Berndt be taken into custody.

Both women remained in the courtroom to see a sheriff take their father away.

They said he made eye contact and glared at them as he was led away to cells.

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