Monday 5 October 1998
'This abuse thing is a crock'
The family of Maury Getkate feel he was wrongly painted as a wife abuser. There is no evidence in his past to indicate such behaviour, they tell Peter Hum.Peter Hum
The Ottawa Citizen
For almost three weeks in an Ottawa courtroom, Derk and Adriana Getkate sat as close as they could to the jury box and the witness stand, watching and waiting to see their son Maury's killer brought to justice.
Patrick Doyle, The Ottawa Citizen / Adriana Getkate, left, leaves the courthouse with her husband Derk Getkate, after their daughter-in-law, Lilian Getkate, was convicted yesterday of manslaughter in the killing of their son Maury.
It had been almost three years since Maury, a 37-year-old RCMP psychologist working in Ottawa, was shot to death by his wife, Lilian, at 5 a.m. on Dec, 8, 1995, as he slept in the couple's Falaise Road home in the Meadowlands Drive, Fisher Avenue area.
Moments later, Mrs. Getkate bolted from the couple's small, white two-storey home with their two children, a boy, 5, and girl, 9, into a bitter December cold. Hours later police charged her with first-degree murder.
"This is three years later," Derk Getkate said in an interview, as he waited for the jury to return with its verdict. "We're just numbed by it all more than anything."
The couple had made the five-day drive from Lethbridge, Alta., to Ottawa in their motor home to attend the trial. Derk, a 62-year-old retired construction company president, often sat with an arm around his wife. Adriana usually took tidy notes on a spiral-bound pad.
But as the trial progressed, the Getkates had left the courtroom on several occasions in the midst of testimony.
They left once when a firearms expert described in detail the paths of the bullets that killed their son, how they entered and exited his neck and back.
They also chose not to listen when their daughter-in-law spoke in her defence. They were absent for a chunk of her testimony, as she said barely a good word about the man she killed, as she went on for hours, quietly and tearfully, with allegations of being insulted, shoved, threatened, grabbed, dragged by the hair, and finally raped.
"It was frustrating ... It was a little more than he could take," said Henry Getkate, explaining why his brother Derk walked out.
"The dead man's on trial, and he can't speak for himself."
"It was probably personal turmoil," Derk Getkate said. "When you're parents ... it's pretty deep."
Henry Getkate, who sat through the cross-examination of Lilian Getkate, could not accept the allegations.
"This abuse thing is a crock," he said.
To believe Lilian Getkate was to believe that her husband was a brutal man who would grasp her throat and tell her how easily he could kill her. That he would force her to have sex in a multi-level parking lot and boast how easily he could have pushed her over onto the street. That he would rape her just outside their daughter's bedroom as nine-year-old Dara slept.
To believe her was to believe that she suffered from battered woman syndrome and under the law, killed her husband in self-defence.
Although the jurors returned their verdict yesterday morning, it remains unclear just how believable they found Lilian Getkate's claims.
The 10-woman, two-man jury made its finding: Not guilty of second-degree murder, but guilty of manslaughter.
Lilian Getkate did not act in self-defence, the jury found. But the verdict, which must go unexplained, may mean that the jurors found that Mrs. Getkate, acting in a depressed, "dissociative" mental state, lacked the intention to kill when she fired two bullets into her husband, or that she was provoked into murdering him. Both scenarios could be regarded as consistent with some allegations of abusive behaviour in the marriage, if not the extremes that Mrs. Getkate described.
The verdict, in its own way, leaves the killing of Maury Getkate as bewildering as it ever was.
"I don't know if it (the killing) will ever make sense," said Henry Getkate.
"It just leaves a huge black hole in the centre that only the truth can fill, the truth that we may never know."
From the moment Maury Getkate was killed, everyone who learned about it -- friends, co-workers and even investigators -- was at a loss to understand what could drive his wife Lilian to shoot him.
One of the Getkates' neighbours, Mary Mortimer, said then: "It's absolutely devastating. One neighbour after another has come to my house, on the verge of tears and shaking their head."
Neither friends nor neighbours knew the Getkates to be anything other than a happy, loving couple devoted to their children.
Maury was a hard-working and successful RCMP industrial psychologist, who appeared to be a staunch family man. Before he was killed, he had told a co-worker that he planned to take has family out to cut their Christmas tree.
Lilian was his stay-at-home wife, a small, soft-spoken woman about a foot shorter and 80 pounds lighter than her husband, a Brownie leader and a churchgoer.
The jury heard in turn, from a witness and from Lilian's lawyer, that each was who he or she appeared to be.
Travis Gee testified that his friend Maury was a "transparent" man, beloved by co-workers because he was so guileless. Mr. Gee also said that he had never seen Mr. Getkate lose his temper, become violent or act out against his wife and two children. "I've seen more ill-tempered teddy bears," he said.
Defence lawyer Patrick McCann described his client in the same way. "She is what she appears to be: a decent, loving, quiet, gentle young woman," he told the jury.
Mr. McCann and assistant Crown attorney Julianne Parfett each contended that one of the Getkates was hiding a deep secret. Mr. Getkate, Mr. McCann said, hid from the world that he was a brutal wife-beater. Mrs. Getkate, Ms. Parfett said, hid from her husband her fantasies about killing him and her resentment of his devotion to his work. She also hid, the Crown said, the financial chaos that she, as the household's money manager, had wrought, including bundles of bills that went unpaid for months.
It was not until the day before the jury began deliberating that the prosecutor advanced in full her theory for the killing. Ms. Parfett suggested, as had the defence, that the Getkates' marriage was indeed an unhappy one, and that Lilian wanted to separate from Maury. But she suggested that while the couple may have argued, as their daughter told police, the disagreements became physical only a few times. There was certainly never the constant abuse that the defence had put forward, or any of the sexual abuse that Lilian testified had occurred, the Crown said.
There was, however, an angry, desperate and depressed woman who intended to kill her husband when she pumped two .223-calibre bullets into his neck and back, Ms. Parfett suggested.
The court heard that the Getkates' relationship began almost as quickly as it ended, when Lilian Getkate was Lilian Fuller, a 19-year-old Grade 12 dropout living near Vancouver, and Maury was a 21-year-old friend of her friend, visiting from Alberta.
Mutual acquaintances arranged their first meeting, a blind date on the 1979 Labour Day weekend. According to Mr. Gee, Maury and Lilian, years later, would fondly recall meeting each other.
"They met on a blind date and liked to say that their marriage was the blind date that never ended," he has said.
The couple went dancing on the night they met. The next day Maury took Lilian to a car rally. That night, they slept together. Lilian testified she had been a virgin, and had not had a boyfriend, before she met Maury.
Maury returned to Edmonton, but in less than two months, Lilian moved to Edmonton and lived with him.
"It was the first time any man paid a lot of attention to me. I was very attracted to him," Mrs. Getkate testified.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Getkate took up the martial art of ninjitsu. He and friends would go to parks at night, dressed in camouflage gear, and practice walking softly and fighting. Mr. Getkate also collected exotic, even illegal weaponry such as ninja throwing stars and nunchaku sticks.
The jury saw that after Mr. Getkate was killed, police seized several rifles, a cache of weapons, a live home-made explosive, and books dealing with sniping, covert operations and explosives from his home. Mr. McCann alleged that Mr. Getkate had intimidated his wife with his paramilitary skills.
Yet Mr. Gee said that Mr. Getkate never expressed any interest to him in guns, martial arts or survivalism. "I don't think he had time for very many outside interests," Mr. Gee said.
Ms. Parfett said that the books were old, packed away and virtually unopened.
Derk Getkate hinted in an interview that the police seizures gave a skewed picture of his son. "It looks like it's all ninja stuff here," he said.
When they lived in Edmonton, Mr. Getkate also taught his wife to handle and shoot guns. The couple moved to Lethbridge in 1983 after Mr. Getkate decided to go back to school.
Although he was employed as a sheet-metal worker, Mr. Getkate had it in him to be an academic over-achiever. Henry Getkate remembered that as a boy in Grade 8, Maury's hobby was astrophysics. He remembers Maury filling up blackboards with information, prompting teachers to say that they could not keep up. "It was like a walking book," he said.
Maury Getkate eventually received his PhD and wrote a book on his specialty with one of the world's recognized experts on the topic. He also qualified for membership in Mensa, the international high-IQ society.
"He was too bright for the world to know, except for those who worked with him, and appreciate that kind of level," said Derk Getkate. Last week he and his wife visited some of their son's co-workers at his RCMP office.
In 1984, the couple married and in 1986 they had a daughter. After Mr. Getkate graduated, the couple moved in 1988 to Guelph where he pursued his graduate degrees. He found work in Ottawa in 1993.
All the while, Mrs. Getkate contended, her husband was becoming more abusive, especially after each child was born. "In Guelph, he first started to threaten me," Mrs. Getkate said. He said that he could "end it for me," she said. Mr. Getkate would grab his wife, take her upstairs, and force her face into the mattress, she testified.
Mrs. Getkate alleged that her husband became sexually aggressive, forcing his wife to have sex with him. "His words were: 'I was his wife. It was my duty'," she testified.
In 1994, Mr. Getkate complained that he was dissatisfied sexually, and he bought a vibrator, his wife said. A vibrator was filed as evidence. Mr. Getkate and his wife used the device as he wished it to be used, she testified. "I felt it was disgusting. It didn't feel right," she said.
In Ottawa, Mr. Getkate began bringing his guns out. Mrs. Getkate said that she begged him not to handle his guns in front of his children. Once, when the gun appeared to be loaded, Mr. Getkate pointed it at his wife. "I would never know if there was a bullet or not. He'd pull the trigger," she said.
By the fall of 1995, Mr. Getkate was unrelenting, Mrs. Getkate said. "It had gotten really bad. There was very little let-up. It just seemed to be ongoing."
Henry Getkate could not accept these allegations.
He spoke of Maury's upbringing, and the example his brother set. Derk's and Adriana's marriage is normal and solid, he said.
A former Calvinist pastor for 22 years, Henry Getkate also said he had dealt with a lot of family abuse and was sensitive to its warning signs. He never detected a whiff of them with Maury and Lilian.
"I know Lil's body language," he said, after watching his nephew's wife on the stand. "She's lying today."
In the weeks before her husband was killed, Mrs. Getkate was not eating well, not showering, and had lost 10 pounds. Both the Crown and the defence agreed that she was likely suffering from depression, but they disagreed on the cause.
The Crown contended that Mrs. Getkate's illness stemmed from her dissatisfaction with the marriage and her inability to manage the household's finances. The Getkates were more than $40,000 in debt, the court heard. The defence contended that Mrs. Getkate was depressed because Maury was constantly berating, threatening and physically abusing her.
On the night before he died, Mr. Getkate and his wife had sex, once if the Crown is correct, twice if the defence is correct. The Crown contended that the sexual relations were consensual, but that Mr. Getkate deeply insulted his wife afterwards about her sexual performance, making her angry. The defence contended that one sexual encounter was forced, and then another, roughly an hour before the shooting was a violent rape in the family's living room, not far from the Getkate daughter's bedroom.
Mr. McCann contended that this incident prompted his client to fear for her life, and for her daughter's safety and then kill out of self-defence.
The jury did not accept this theory whole, but nor did it accept Ms. Parfet's theory.
When Mrs. Getkate testified about the shooting, she said that she had no recollection of killing her husband. She said that she heard footsteps, creaking and sharp noises. She remembered that her daughter cried out.
"I went upstairs and turned on the bedside light," she said. "Maury was all covered in blood."
Toronto forensic psychiatrist Dr. Graham Glancy examined Mrs. Getkate roughly six months after the shooting, and his opinion was that when Mrs. Getkate killed her husband, she was acting as if part of her mind had been shut down. It was as if a mental "cut-off valve" had been turned on, and while in a "dissociative state," Mrs. Getkate could not have formed the intention to kill that the law requires for its definition of murder, Dr. Glancy said.
Ms. Parfett said that the verdict may indicate that the jury had doubts about whether Mrs. Getkate intended to kill her husband. "They clearly accepted that something happened that night," she said.
A date for Mrs. Getkate's sentencing hearing has yet to be set. But when that day comes, Mr. McCann, if he does not appeal the conviction, will have plenty of latitude to ask for a short sentence. There is no minimum sentence for manslaughter, while the maximum is life.
It is conceivable that Mrs. Getkate will be allowed to serve her sentence, if it is less than two years, in her home as a conditional sentence. Last year in Ottawa, a woman who had been charged with second-degree murder and convicted of manslaughter, and who had used the battered woman syndrome defence, was sentenced to two years less a day, to be served out of jail.
June Fuller, Mrs. Getkate's mother, now has custody of the couple's two children in her Maple Ridge, B.C. home. Mrs. Getkate since the shooting has lived not far from her mother. Mrs. Fuller speaks of the children wanting to be reunited with their own mother.
"Her children love her very much and Mom's the one they want and who have always wanted," she said.
Mr. Getkate's family have not seen the children since his funeral. Henry Getkate wondered about their future. "They're going to ask, 'What kind of guy was Dad? Was he such a bad guy that Mom had to kill him?'" he said.
He is a still a religious man, as are Maury Getkate's parents, and he said that verdicts, juries and judges are still only earthly things.
"We don't argue with what the jury comes up with. We don't have to play God. We don't have to be the judge and jury of the judge and jury," he said.
He recalled the Lilian Getkate that his family loved, and thinks of her a different person than the woman who killed Maury Getkate. "That's not the Lilian we loved," he said.
Convinced that the stories of abuse were fabricated, Henry Getkate wished that Lilian had been able to confess what she did without lies and embellishments.
"If she said, 'I didn't like him anymore. I shot him, I killed him. I'm ever so sorry. Will you forgive me?'" he began. "It would have been so nice to say bluntly and plainly what it is. Tell us what it is and be truthful."
The truth can still help Lilian, he said.
"I would hope Lil can be truthful and have peace about this and have peace with God. We think eternity's a long time for anybody," said Henry Getkate.
"There'll be another Judgment Day when all is said and done," Derk Getkate said.