Ottawa Citizen
Monday 5 October 1998

Getkate convicted of lesser charge

Manslaughter verdict 'shows that society is beginning to understand'

Peter Hum
The Ottawa Citizen

Patrick Doyle, The Ottawa Citizen / Lilian Getkate, convicted of manslaugher, returns to court Thursday to set a date for a sentencing Hearing.

Lilian Getkate left court yesterday feeling relieved and fairly judged after a jury found her guilty of manslaughter in the Dec. 8, 1995 shooting death of her husband as he slept at their Ottawa home.

Mrs. Getkate, 38, faced a charge of second-degree murder after she killed her husband Maury, an RCMP industrial psychologist, with his rifle in their Falaise Road home almost three years ago. She had pleaded not guilty and hoped for an acquittal, which would have come had the jury accepted that she was a battered woman who killed in self-defence.

As she and her mother June Fuller stepped into a taxi outside the Elgin Street courthouse, Mrs. Fuller said of her daughter: "She's been a very brave steel magnolia.

"We feel the jury must have deliberated fairly. An acquittal would have been nice ... (but) we're very relieved," said Mrs. Fuller, who lives in Maple Ridge, B.C. She has custody of her daughter's two children, a boy and a girl who were five and nine at the time of the shooting. Mrs. Getkate now also lives in Maple Ridge.

"Manslaughter shows that society is beginning to understand what some of these women go through," Mrs. Fuller continued.

The verdict, which concluded a three-week trial and came after 24 hours of deliberation, left the parents of Mr. Getkate upset and speechless as they strode from the courthouse. It also gives no clear indication of the extent to which the 10-woman, two-man jury believed Mrs. Getkate's allegation that her husband brutally abused her.

Mrs. Getkate, alleged that she had been steadily and increasingly dominated and abused over 16 years with Maury Getkate. She spoke of being insulted, grabbed, shoved, dragged by the hair, threatened with death, and eventually raped.

She said the abuse in the two weeks before the shooting was constant. She claimed that in the wee hours before the 5 a.m. shooting, Mr. Getkate twice forced her to take part in rough, degrading sexual acts.

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.

While there was no third-person testimony or physical evidence to clearly corroborate Mrs. Getkate's allegations, two psychiatrists who examined Mrs. Getkate in 1996 testified that she fit the criteria for "battered woman syndrome."

One of the experts, Toronto forensic psychiatrist Dr. Graham Glancy, testified that he felt Mrs. Getkate was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder before the shooting.

Assistant Crown attorney Julianne Parfett nonetheless said that the jury's refusal to acquit was a rejection of Mrs. Getkate's battered-wife-syndrome defence.

For the prosecutor, the manslaughter finding meant that the jury had doubts about whether Mrs. Getkate, at the time of the shooting, was capable of forming the intention to kill, which a conviction of second-degree murder would have required.

Dr. Glancy testified that Mrs. Getkate was in "a dissociative state" when she killed her husband. Mrs. Getkate testified that she has no clear memory of killing her husband, but that she heard footsteps, creaking and sharp noises when he was killed.

Defence lawyer Patrick McCann contended the verdict meant the jury accepted the battered wife syndrome defence "to some degree."

He said that there were many ways at which the jury could have arrived at its finding. Manslaughter might have been "a compromise verdict," he said, noting the length of time the jury spent deliberating.

Mr. Getkate's parents, who had driven from Lethbridge, Alberta, to Ottawa for the trial, refused to comment on the verdict. Ms. Parfett spoke to them before they left, and she said that they were upset.

"They have had to sit through two weeks of hearing their son vilified," she said. "In many ways, their son (reputation) has been rehabilitated. (By the fact that the jury found Mrs. Getkate guilty, rather than acquitting her altogether, which would have been a clear sign they believed she was a battered wife).

"He was not the monster his wife made him out to be."

During the trial, Justice James Chadwick reduced the charge against Mrs. Getkate from first-degree to second-degree murder because he found insufficient evidence of planning.

Before he called the jury back yesterday with its verdict, the judge told the Getkates that his job was to ensure a fair trial, and that they had his sincere sympathies as a father of grown children, a husband and a grandparent.

The issue of battered woman syndrome weighed so heavily on the mind of one juror that during the trial, he or she asked Judge Chadwick for documents on the topic. Judge Chadwick advised jurors that they were to return their verdict based solely on the evidence heard 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. Ms. Lavallee shot her common-law husband in the back of the head after enduring years of abuse and being hospitalized at least eight times. An 11-man, one woman jury acquitted her of second-degree murder in 1987, and the Supreme Court upheld that verdict.

In the 1990s, at least three other Canadian women have been acquitted of either murder or manslaughter after invoking the battered woman syndrome defence.

At least three more women who also described themselves as battered women pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received sentences of no more than a year in jail. One of them was Jocelyne Bennett, an Ottawa woman who in January 1993 received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

The charge and verdict in Mrs. Getkate's trial brings to mind the murder trial in Ottawa last year of Lisa Ferguson.

Charged with second-degree murder, Ms. Ferguson was convicted of manslaughter in the death of her common-law husband, Vincent Foley. Ms. Ferguson alleged that she was suffering from battered woman syndrome. Justice Pierre Mercier granted Ms. Ferguson a sentence of two years less a day. There is no minimum sentence for manslaughter, while the maximum sentence is life.

Mrs. Getkate is to appear in court Thursday, when a date for a sentencing hearing is to be set.