Tuesday, August 17, 1999

Jane Gadd

p. A9.

Husband suicidal before killings: wife

Says his bizarre behaviour went untreated

A month before he killed three prostitutes with his .357 magnum, Marcello Palma had been thrown out by his wife — not, she told a judge yesterday, because his behaviour had become bizarre or because he'd once held a gun to her head, but because she'd caught him having an affair.

Mr. Palma, an air-conditioning technician has admitted to killing one female prostitute and two transvestite male prostitutes the night of May 20, 1996, when other Toronto residents were setting off fireworks in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday.

But Mr. Palma, 33, is not criminally responsible for the killings because of mental illness, according to his lawyer, Edward Greenspan.

Yesterday Mr. Greenspan called Mr. Palma's wife, Rosa, to testify about her husband's apparent spiral into suicidal depression in the nine months before he killed Brenda Ludgate, 25, Thomas (Deanna) Wilkinson, 31, and Shawn Keegan, 19, with bullets to the head.

Mrs. Palma, 39, described making desperate attempts to get help for her husband from August, 1995, until the following April.

During those months, he was always crying and threatening to kill himself, she testified.

He would hide himself in the basement of their home, disappear for long periods of time at night and tell her over and over again that he wanted to die, she said.

She knew that he owned three or four registered handguns, she said, and once found him cowering in a closet in the basement, threatening to blow his own head off. A few months before the killings, he pointed the gun at her head when she refused to stop questioning him.

But despite the guns, her husband's alarming behaviour, and her concern for the couple's 15-month-old daughter, Mrs. Palma never called the police or informed her family of what was going on, she testified.

"I thought he would kill himself," she said. She also was ashamed — she had already had one bad marriage, to an alcoholic who beat her. "I believed Marcello was ill."

She did repeatedly call Mr. Palma's psychiatrist, she said, but the doctor insisted there wasn't much wrong with him — and when she persuaded him to go to a hospital, he was not admitted.

"He could have been in hospital. And three lives are gone."

The final straw for Mrs. Palma came in April, 1996, when she discovered her husband was having an affair.

"I told him to take his bags and go," she said. "I put his clothes in garbage bags and he and his brother picked them up."

The guns, however, stayed in the couple's North York basement, where Mr. Palma could get them by using his house key and the keys to the cabinet where they were kept.

During cross-examination by Crown attorney Christine McGoey, Mrs. Palma acknowledged that her husband craved attention.

According to the Crown's psychiatric evaluation, Mr. Palma has a narcissistic personality with a tendency toward sadism.

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