Edmonton father drops appeal on sexual assault conviction, sentence

·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, 73, has dropped his appeal after he was charged and sentenced to 14 years in prison for sexually abusing his children decades ago.

In April, a jury found Berndt guilty on all five sex-related charges involving his three children. The crimes began in 1986 and lasted until the end of 2001.

Berndt testified during the trial, denying the offences. He had sought to be released on bail while waiting for his appeal to be heard. His bail was denied.

Berndt's daughter, Lavinia Perreault, 36, said when she heard about the appeal it was "gut-wrenching."

"There was still no acknowledgement of what he put us through as children and no hint of remorse. To hear that he did go through and attempt to do an appeal, it was absolutely horrible," she said in an interview Friday.

All three children told CBC they feel relieved the appeal was dropped.

"The process was so long and now it's over. It's time for me to move on," Cedric Shui, Berndt's 38-year-old son said.

In June, after Berndt was sentenced, Shui said he viewed his father as a monster from his past, but said he's working on moving thorugh the pain of his childhood.

Both sisters also call Berndt a monster.

"The whole situation is difficult because it's family, right? There is baggage and it is that you can't explain why you feel the way you feel or how things have gone. It's been a lot. A lot of heartbreak," Juanita Falkingham, 40.

Submitted by Juanita Falkingham
Submitted by Juanita Falkingham

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Earl Wilson said he would have imposed an 18-year sentence, but lowered the number given Berndt's advanced age.

The Crown had sought a 15-year sentence, while the defence suggested no more than eight years.

"Nothing will ever be enough to repair what was done. I feel like it was a decent sentence from a legal standpoint. But it's hard knowing that there will be an opportunity of release and back into the community a lot sooner than the 14 years. That's hard to deal with," Falkingham said.

Falkingham said although she doesn't know why Berndt dropped the appeal, she is relieved he did, and relieved she and her siblings won't have to testify again nor continue with the legal process.

Justice Wilson called the victim impact statements "sad and poignant" at the sentencing, noting the long-term impacts of the abuse included alcohol and drug use, self-loathing, self-mutilation and years of counselling.

"We can kind of bag it and put it behind us now and know that there's nothing else that we can do and try to move forward," Falkingham said.

Despite the immense toll the abuse and legal journey has taken on all three siblings, Perreault said she is proud of how close they stuck together.

"I feel like we've scraped ourselves together, put the pieces back together to move past the trauma that we had to endure," she said.

"It's really brought us closer together. It's broken down a barrier none of us really realised was there in the first place."

Submitted by Lavinia Perreault
Submitted by Lavinia Perreault