Canada's 'symbol of evil' who helped husband kill girls is freed

Dodging waiting reporters, Homolka, 35, left a prison on the outskirts of Montreal on Monday. After her lawyers had unsuccessfully petitioned the courts to protect her from the press on her release, Ms Homolka drove directly to a television studio and gave an interview. Under a deal brokered with prosecutors at her 1993 trial, Homolka was found guilty of manslaughter and given a reduced sentence of 12 years after agreeing to testify against her former husband. She claimed she was a battered wife who had been forced to participate in the three killings.

The contrast between the depravity of the crimes and the brevity of the sentence continues to sit badly with many Canadians. Soon after the plea agreement, lawyers for her husband, Paul Bernado, handed over video tapes the couple made seemingly showing Homolka as a willing participant. At the trial in Toronto, the court was told Bernado and Homolka had kidnapped two teenage girls, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, then raped, sexually tortured and finally killed both. The case, with all of its vivid details of the crimes, challenged the innocence of Canada and its assumption at the time that crimes so heinous belonged south of the border, rather than in its own society.

Homolka was also convicted of the death in 1990 of her 15-year-old younger sister, Tammy, whom she had offered as a sexual gift to her husband. The girl suffocated on her vomit after the couple made her unconscious by placing a drug-soaked cloth over her mouth. Video images showed Homolka performing oral sex on her unconscious sister and her husband raping her.

In what may be a vain effort to hide from her infamy, Homolka has changed her name to Karla Teale and has declined to say where she will be living.

But she learnt French while in prison and has said she will make Quebec her home, claiming that the province is more tolerant than Ontario. In the interview on French-language television in Montreal, she repeated that she had acted under her husband's influence and asked that she be allowed to rebuild her life.

Noting that her first desire was to taste the cappuccino, she said: "I don't want to be hunted down. I don't want people to think I am dangerous and I'm going to do something to their children.

"What I did was terrible and I was in a situation where I was unable to see clearly, where I was unable to ask for help, where I was completely overwhelmed in my life and I regret it enormously because now I know I had the power to stop all that."

The families of the two teenage victims are shocked. Tim Danson, a lawyer for the French and Mahaffay families, said they were overwhelmed by the news that she was free. "They thought they had made the necessary mental and emotional adjustments to get ready for today, but when I gave them word that she'd been released, there was just stunned, painful silence," he said.

Jack Jadwab, executive director of the Association of Canadian Studies in Montreal, said: "People think she's cheated the system. A violent crime like this, publicised the way it is, represents to many Canadians a bit of a stain on our reputation for being a non-violent society."

Homolka has appealed against restrictions set on her freedom but the families of her victims said they have engaged lawyers to fight such a move.