When the courtroom doors opened, Maria Mitousis strode through, and a solemn hush settled over the room.

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This article was published 22/11/2017 (1678 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


When the courtroom doors opened, Maria Mitousis strode through, and a solemn hush settled over the room.

This is what grace looks like. This is what courage looks like. This is what survival looks like, two years after a package-bomb blast rocked her River Avenue law office – shattering her window, her body and nearly her life.

For weeks, trial watchers had been anticipating this moment. In some ways, Mitousis is the human heart of this case. She was the only one injured by three bombs sent in July 2015; the others were detonated by a police robot.

And as she testified in the case against Guido Amsel, the man accused of five counts of attempted murder and explosives charges, Mitousis was calm, her voice quiet and cool. In a way, that is a statement about survival, too.

She bowed before the judge, the way lawyers do, poised and straight-backed in a black suit. For most of her testimony, she looked at the defendant only once, to identify him after the Crown's questions were through.

In between, she talked about the work she did on behalf of Amsel's ex-wife, Iris. About the legal tug-of-war over assets that looked to be on the verge of resolving, when Guido Amsel suddenly agreed to drop a countersuit.

She told court about the morning of July 3, 2015. It began at Wildewood Golf course, where she had a regular 7 a.m. tee time with some friends. She then drove to work, planning to leave early, after tying up some loose ends.

That's where she saw the envelope, a bubble-wrap package. Inside was a pocket recorder and a note, bearing the phone number of a firm she used to work for, and a handwritten message: "Push enter to start," the note began.

For a moment, Mitousis debated what to do. She'd never received a package like this, had no frame of reference on what to do. She wasn't thinking about a package bomb, then – but why would she? Very few people would be.

"When you pressed (the button)," the Crown asked, "what happened?"

Mitousis looked down. "Well," she said, followed by a pause.

In the gallery, journalists leaned forward. Our pens made a furious scratching on slim pads of paper. It sounded a little like wind through leaves, but sharper. Then Mitousis gathered her thoughts, and once again began to speak.

There was the sound, she continued, like a firecracker pop. She was reeling; everything felt like it shifted; but she was still standing up. It felt, she said, searching for words to explain a shock of trauma, as if she was underwater.

How long, the Crown asked, between when she pressed the button and the bomb going off?

Mitousis thought about that a moment. "Not very long," she said simply.

She told the court about the rush to Health Sciences Centre. The swarm of doctors and nurses telling her they'd take care of everything. How she woke up the next morning, to discover the ways in which she'd been broken.

And, then: a week in hospital, home care, subsequent surgeries. She still goes to physiotherapy to restore strength to her left hand, which was damaged but now intact. Her right arm still hurts all the time, a burning, throbbing pain.

"I'm aware of it every minute of the day," she said.

So that goes onto the record too.

In a way, Mitousis's testimony took the proceedings back to the start. On the opening day of the trial last month, court heard a police officer's grisly account of her injuries, saw photos of her tattered and blood-soaked blouse.

Now, her body itself became a form of testimony, its scars the terrible legacy of the bomb that blew up that day.

Journalists are often stenographers of pain. Courts are too, although in a different way: more clinical, more detached. And in the gap between those two kinds of story, words scribbled in a notebook often leer darkly.

Yes, this is all on the public record. But what of our gaze, as outsiders? Too much, too personal, too prying?

Maybe, maybe, maybe. Yet there is a distinction here, that is worth making: Mitousis's presence in the courtroom on Wednesday wasn't only a testimony of sudden trauma. It was also testimony of resilience, against a lash of evil.

One last thought: had Mitousis not opened that package that day, had she not pressed the button, perhaps the other two package bombs wouldn't have been identified and intercepted in time, before they harmed anyone else.

That's only a what-if, though. There's no way to know what would have happened. This part is certain: in her crisp retelling, Mitousis -- who returned to work full-time in January -- showed a strength that most of us cannot imagine.

She did not choose this road. But as she strode into the courtroom on Tuesday, bowed to the judge and told her truth, Maria Mitousis arrived at the trial not just as a victim, but as a hero: sudden crisis, resilience, and survival.



Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.