On an October Sunday morning six years ago, Anne Widholm took her customary after-church stroll on the Ganatchio Trail in Windsor, Ontario. As her son Kristopher explained, these were her “her time to be quiet with herself and to be, as best as she knew how, with God.” That day, the 75–year-old grandmother “crossed paths with a person who made a choice to destroy her.”
Habibullah Ahmadi, 21, attacked the defenseless woman, repeatedly slamming her head to the ground. Widholm suffered “the worst skull fractures I’ve seen in my 12 years here in Windsor,” neurosurgeon Dr. Balraj Jhawar told reporters. The victim’s lacerated scalp, bruised face and fractured neck vertebrae were “among the most brutal things I’ve seen in my career.” Dr. Jhawar described the victim as a “super good person,” but news reports were short on information about the man who attacked her.
Locals learned that “Windsor man” Habibullah Ahmadi goes by the first name “Daniel.” Police initially brought one count of aggravated assault but later changed the charge to attempted murder. The attacker was denied bail and remained in custody, but the police seemed to be holding back.
At 21, Habibullah Ahmad was an adult, so there was no legal obstacle to release of information, including his booking photo. No photo of Habibullah Ahmad appeared and he remained something of a mystery. Locals had cause to wonder if Habibullah Ahmad had always been a “Windsor man.” Locals could find no published interviews with friends, relatives, fellow students or co-workers.
A male adult struck down an elderly woman, but feminists did not decry the attack as an example of violence against women. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who had often spoken out on bullying, offered no statement on the case.
Habibullah Ahmadi had the means and opportunity to attack Anne Widholm, but that left the key question of motive. Police initially charged Ahmadi “randomly attacked” Anne Widholm, but Dr. Jhawar, who conducted eight hours of surgery to keep Anne Widholm alive, found that “absolutely unacceptable.”
As the surgeon explained, it was “not just another random attack” and “maybe representing a new, dark side of Windsor that we can’t let propagate.” Anne Widholm was “not out of the woods yet,” and “anything can happen.”
Widholm lapsed into a coma, which Dr. Jahwar described as “a worse state than death.” Anne Widholm died in December of 2018 at the age of 76. The charge was changed to second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence. The trial was repeatedly delayed and the key question of motive remained unexplored.
By all indications, not a single public official called out Habibullah Ahmadi, by name, as a gutless coward and depraved criminal deserving of punishment that matched his crime. No public official proclaimed the need for new measures to prevent this kind of vicious attack from happening again. No public official announced ways the people could protect themselves and their loved ones from this brand of deadly violence.
“Windsor man sentenced to life in prison for killing of Sara Anne Widholm on Ganatchio Trail,” read the headline on the February 4, 2021 CBC report, but there was a problem. The “Windsor man,” whose photo did not appear in the story, would not be spending his life in prison, and it wasn’t even close.
Justice Bruce Thomas told the court Habibullah Ahmadi would be eligible for parole after 13 years. That fell short of what the prosecution wanted and a full 12 years less than the maximum of 25 years. If the murderer gains credit for time served, Habibullah Ahmadi could be out in 10 years, the minimum required by law.
Justice Bruce Thomas told the court Ahmadi “had the intention to cause Sara Anne Widholm bodily harm” and was “likely to cause her death, and that he was clearly reckless as to whether death ensued.” Thomas said people in the community “can find no apparent motive” for the attack.
Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens, in a statement to the court, found “no reason at all” for the crime, and as he told reporters, “I’m sure, given the opportunity, I could find good in the defendant.” The mayor, an attorney, seemed unaware that after the guilty verdict Habibullah Ahmadi was no longer a defendant but a convicted murderer.
In Windsor, Ontario, Canada, somebody named Habibullah Ahmadi, can beat a frail grandmother into a coma, a fate worse than death, and dodge any serious probe of his motive. Unlike other violent criminals in Canada, Habibullah can avoid the publication of his booking photo and exposure of his background.
For one of the most brutal murders in Canadian history, Habibullah Ahmadi escapes the automatic life sentence. Habibullah will be eligible for parole after 13 years, with 10 years a distinct possibility. If anybody thought the new dark side of Windsor had already arrived it would be hard to blame them.