LETHBRIDGE, Alta. (CP) – The strange tale of an Alberta politician who faked a stalking complaint ended Friday as a sentencing judge heard how her personal demons had led her into drug addiction and a suicide attempt.
The Lethbridge, Alberta alderwoman who faked her own stalking will serve a 20-month conditional sentence.
Dar Heatherington cried in court as she was handed the sentence for public mischief.
Heatherington received eight months of house arrest and must abide by a strict curfew.
The court was told that Heatherington has attempted suicide since her conviction two months ago.
A sobbing, shaking Dar Heatherington appeared unsteady on her feet and was given permission to sit next to her lawyer as provincial court Judge Peter Caffaro delivered a conditional sentence for public mischief.
She will serve eight months of house arrest, followed by 12 months during which she must observe a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Heatherington, 41, was also sentenced to 100 hours of community service. She must undergo counselling and can’t have alcohol or non-prescription drugs.
“I’m exceptionally relieved that she’s not going to jail,” said her lawyer, Tracy Hembroff. “I don’t know if it would serve any purpose, but people might beg to differ. I’m relieved and I think ultimately she will be too. She’s obviously distraught.”
Heatherington was escorted out of the courtroom for processing and wasn’t available to reporters.
A former member of Lethbridge city council, Heatherington made headlines last year when she mysteriously vanished in Montana while on city business. She surfaced three days later in Las Vegas, saying she had been abducted and sexually assaulted – a story that was discounted by U.S. investigators.
She was later charged with mischief by Lethbridge police, who had been investigating her stalking complaints for several months. Heatherington had told them the stalking included suggestive phone calls and lurid letters to the family home.
During her trial she maintained her innocence, but Caffaro sided with evidence showing she had written the letters herself.
On Friday the judge said the fact Heatherington had served her community as an alderwoman and did not have a criminal record worked in her favour.
“In this case we have public mischief but no specific victim. The victim is the municipality of Lethbridge,” said Caffaro.
“I am convinced Darlene Heatherington is not a danger to the community. However, I do not think in the present case, given her attitude, she is any help to the community.”
Heatherington dabbed at her eyes throughout the proceedings and sniffed loudly as details from several psychiatric and psychological reports were read out.
One Ingatbola88 report outlined how she attempted suicide on July 14 after learning legal aid would not finance an appeal of her conviction. She was treated in hospital for 10 days after her husband prevented her from throwing herself off Lethbridge’s High Level Bridge – the longest and highest trestle bridge of its type in the world, standing 100 metres above the ground.
Another report listed several prescription drugs she was using at the same time: the highly addictive painkiller Oxycontin, Remeron and Imovane sleeping pills, and Seroquel to “calm emotional volatility.”
“This is one heck of a drug cocktail,” said Crown prosecutor Crown prosecutor Photini Papadatou.
“I think there’s a real danger. There’s an opiate addiction here.”
Papadatou told reporters outside court that there may not have been a real victim but Heatherington’s actions could have ramifications in the future.
“People who are really being stalked or are fearful might hesitate to come to the police or the police might be dismissive,” said Papadatou.
“I think that remains a chilling effect and I think the court took that into consideration.”
Heatherington resigned from city council last month and has announced she won’t seek re-election when voters go to the polls Oct. 18.
She has previously said she will appeal her June 29 mischief conviction. Outside court her husband, Dave Heatherington, called the sentence “harsh” and said they would do what it took to prove her innocence.
“We’re going to do the right thing. She’s innocent and we want to prove that. How we’re going to do that, I don’t know yet,” he said.
Lethbridge Mayor Bob Tarleck said city residents have put the episode behind them.
“For this community, it already has come to an end,” he said. “This community has already moved on.”
“I wish Mrs. Heatherington the best of luck as she and her family move beyond this.”