Dad of girls drowned by mom 'haunted' by image

Elaine Campione is seen with her two daughters, left to right, Sophia, 19 months, and Serena, 3, in this undated photo handed out by the court in Barrie, Ont., on Thursday, November 4, 2010. Leo Campione, the father of two little girls who were drowned in a bathtub by their mother, says he will forever be haunted by that image. Leo Campione was not in court for the sentencing of his ex-wife on Wednesday, but a Crown attorney read his victim impact statement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

BARRIE, Ont. - The image of his two young daughters struggling to breathe as their mother held their heads underwater in the bathtub will haunt Leo Campione for the rest of his life, court heard Wednesday.

His ex-wife, Elaine Campione, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder for killing Serena, 3, and Sophia, 19 months. The jury took nearly a week to decide that mental illness did not prevent Campione from knowing it was wrong to drown her children, as the defence had suggested.

Leo Campione was not in court Wednesday as his ex-wife was sent to prison for life with no chance of parole for 25 years, but a Crown attorney read a victim impact statement he prepared after learning of Monday's verdicts.

"The images of their last moments, innocent and helpless as they were, will haunt me forever, in ways I can't begin to describe," he wrote.

"I live my life and gain my strength in knowing with each passing day I am one day closer to being with them."

Elaine Campione drowned her daughters four years ago in the midst of a custody battle with her ex-husband. Her trial heard that she left him because he was abusive. Charges of assault he faced were stayed after his ex-wife was charged with the murders.

The father and his family, who did not attend the trial, are disturbed by "allegations and innuendoes against Leo Campione that have never been tried in a court," Crown attorney Enno Meijers told the court, noting that the man has not had a proper forum to answer to those allegations.

In his victim impact statement Leo Campione did not address the allegations he abused his wife and once hit their eldest daughter, focusing instead on the memories of his daughters' brief lives.

He particularly misses coming home from work and having the two little girls run to the door with their hands in the air calling out, "daddy, daddy," he wrote.

"Serena and Sophia were my life and they still are," Campione wrote. "I found my place in life and my peace was with them. Above all else in life nothing brought peace to me like they did from their loving embrace."

The defence had conceded that Elaine Campione drowned her children in October 2006, just days before a family court appearance at which her ex-husband was to fight for custody. But lawyer Mary Cremer had urged the jury to find Campione not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.

The jury, which heard seven weeks of testimony and deliberated for nearly a week, was tasked with sifting through evidence of Campione's suicide attempts and mental illness.

Court heard Campione spent time in psychiatric wards, attempted suicide, had delusions that people were trying to kill her and steal the girls and exhibited bizarre behaviour, including not letting one of her daughters touch anything red and claiming she saw aliens.

The Crown didn't deny Campione was mentally unwell, but argued it did not prevent her from knowing right from wrong. Meijers had argued Campione killed the girls out of spite so her ex-husband couldn't get custody.

The sisters were found on Oct. 4, 2006, after Campione calmly called police to say her children were dead, though she likely killed them two days earlier.

When officers arrived they found the little bodies dressed in pyjamas, posed in Campione's bed holding hands.

The odour of decomposition was already in the air.

A photo album and a rosary had been placed with their bodies and little Sophia's hair had been combed. Underneath a tuft of hair that had been brushed across Sophia's forehead were marks that looked like the bath mat.

In that room a videotape was found showing footage from the night of Oct. 2, 2006 of the sisters playing and colouring. The tape was turned off at 8:39 p.m. and then at 9:27 p.m. the video camera is turned back on and Campione is sitting alone on a couch facing the camera.

"Leo, there are you happy?" she says. "Everything's gone ... The idea that you could actually have my children — God believes me and God's taking care of them now."

Leo Campione's family also wrote a victim impact statement, saying the pain of losing the girls has not subsided in the past four years.

"Our time with them was cut short, our hearts broken, our lives shattered," they wrote. "The emptiness of losing Serena and Sophia is something we live with every day, however the joy and memories we shared with them will live on in our hearts forever."