Wednesday, November 11, 1998
Husband-killer is spared prison
John Major / Ottawa Citizen: Lilian Getkate reaches for her seatbelt as she leaves court yesterday after receiving a sentence of two years less a day, to be served at home.
No independent evidence of abuse, Crown points outBy Peter Hum, Ottawa
Lilian Getkate, a former Brownie leader, will serve two years less a day at home for shooting her husband dead while he slept in their Ottawa house, a judge ruled yesterday.
The decision to spare her jail sends a message that women can kill, claim they have been abused, fail to prove it, and remain free, Crown prosecutor Julianne Parfett said.
"All of the evidence came from Mrs. Getkate herself: said Ms. Parfett. "No one could corroborate it. Not a bruise, not a hospital record, not a police report. Nothing ... that's what is most troubling about this one.
"We simply say, 'Yes, you were abused. Fine. You walk.' That's what this sentence was all about. I think it's an appalling message to send to the public." Outside court, Getkate said she was relieved. "I just want to go home to be with my kids," she said. "We can be together again."
The Getkates had two children, who since their mother's arrest have lived with Getkate's mother in Maple Ridge, B.C. Getkate, who has moved from Ottawa to British Columbia and will serve her sentence there, said that the children know that she shot their father "They love me," she said.
She said she was surprised by the sentence, expecting and fearing she would be jailed. Instead she will do 200 hours of community service and attend meetings of Co-Dependents Anonymous, a support group for emotionally dependent people. She also will receive counselling.
In December 1995, Getkate killed her husband Maury, a 37 year-old RCMP industrial psychologist, with his rifle. She did not try to hide that fact at trial. She pleaded not guilty and hoped for an acquittal, which would have come had the jury accepted she was a battered woman who killed in self-defence. Instead, the jury's verdict of manslaughter gave no clear indication of the extent to which its 10 women and two men believed Getkate.
Her trial featured different depictions of the 16 years she spent with her husband. Getkate spoke of being insulted, grabbed, shoved, dragged by the hair, threatened with death, practically enslaved, and eventually raped. The defence painted Mr. Getkate, who was a foot taller and too pounds heavier than his wife, as a paramilitary buff and aspiring ninja after introducing the man's collection of exotic weaponry as an exhibit. It said Maury Getkate told his wife he would sexually abuse his daughter shortly before she killed him.
Such claims were at odds with the public face the Getkates showed. Neighbours and relatives regarded them as a happy, ordinary couple, devoted to their children. Mr. Getkate was a hard-working, successful professional whom co-workers admired, while his wife was a stay-at-home mother, a Brownie leader, and a church-goer.
There was no third-person testimony or physical evidence to clearly corroborate Getkate's allegations, and Ms. Parfett said that at most, Mrs. Getkate may have suffered "moderate" abuse.
However, two psychiatrists who examined Getkate in 1996 testified that she fit the criteria for "battered woman syndrome" after interviewing her.
"The jury obviously found that Lilian Getkate was abused by Maury Getkate, but not to the degree where the death could be justified at law," Justice James Chadwick wrote. He added that she "would fit well up on the [battered woman] scale."
Defence lawyer Patrick McCann responded to the Crown's criticism of the sentence. "There's a long tradition in Canada that women who have been abused by their husbands or partners and have reacted to that and killed the man have been convicted of manslaughter have not received custodial sentences. This is nothing new," he said.
In January, 1996, legislation came into force that made prison sentences of at least four years mandatory for manslaughter offences in which firearms are used. Getkate is not covered by the legislation because she killed her husband in December 1995.
"She missed by three weeks, which I find ironic," Ms. Parfett said in court. The landmark case in which a Canadian woman was first acquitted of murder after using the battered-woman syndrome defence was the 1990 Supreme Court ruling regarding Winnipeg woman Angelique Lynn Lavallee. Lavallee shot her common-law husband in the back of the head after enduring years of abuse. A jury acquitted her of second-degree murder in 19871 and the Supreme Court upheld that verdict.