Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday 11 November 1998

Getkate won't go to jail

Lenient sentence for killing spouse angers Crown, victim's family; 'I think it's an appalling message to send to the public'

Peter Hum
The Ottawa Citizen

Maury Getkate, who was an RCMP industrial psychologist, was admired by his colleagues.

John Major, The Ottawa Citizen / Lilian Getkate, 38, who was convicted last month of manslaughter in the shooting death of her husband, Maury, was sentenced yesterday to serve two years less a day at her new home in Maple Ridge, B.C.

Lilian Getkate, who shot her husband, Maury, to death while he slept three years ago at their westend Ottawa home, will not go to jail for her crime.

Instead, the 38-year-old woman, convicted last month of manslaughter, was sentenced yesterday to serve two years less a day, under numerous conditions, at her new home in Maple Ridge, B.C.

Justice James Chadwick's sentence prompted a tearful Mrs. Getkate to hug her parents. It also prompted heavy criticism from Maury Getkate's relatives and the prosecutor who had tried to have Mrs. Getkate convicted of murder.

"I think it's an appalling message to send to the public," said assistant Crown attorney Julianne Parfett.

Mrs. Getkate is the second Ottawa woman in two years to commit manslaughter and receive a conditional sentence to be served in the community, and Ms. Parfett was quick to draw a detrimental comparison.

Last year, Justice Pierre Mercier gave Lisa Ferguson a sentence of two years less a day, to be served out of jail, for killing her common-law husband Vincent Foley. Like Mrs. Getkate, Ms. Ferguson faced a charge of second-degree murder and maintained that she had been a battered woman acting in self-defence. In Ms. Ferguson's case, Ms. Parfett said, there was ample corroborative evidence of abuse. In Mrs. Getkate, there was only the accused woman's testimony, she continued.

"All of the evidence came from Mrs. Getkate herself. 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'" said the Crown.

"We simply say, 'Yes, you were abused. Fine. You walk.' That's what this sentence was all about."

In the wee hours of Dec. 8, 1995, Mrs. Getkate killed her husband, Maury, a 37-year-old RCMP industrial psychologist, with his Ruger Mini-14 rifle in their Falaise Road home.

She did not try to hide these facts at trial. Instead, she 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. Instead, the manslaughter verdict gave no clear indication of the extent to which the 10-woman, two-man jury believed Mrs. Getkate.

The defence painted Mr. Getkate, who was about a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than his wife, as a paramilitary buff and aspiring ninja after introducing the man's collection of exotic weaponry as an exhibit.

Mrs. Getkate spoke of being insulted, grabbed, shoved, dragged by the hair, threatened with death, practically enslaved and eventually raped.

The defence put forward that Maury Getkate threatened to his wife that he would sexually abuse his daughter shortly before she killed him.

But such claims were at odds with another face of the Getkates, also described during the trial. 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 Mrs. Getkate's allegations, and Ms. Parfett said, at most, Mrs. Getkate may have suffered "moderate" abuse. There were, however, two psychiatrists who interviewed Mrs. Getkate in 1996 and testified that she fit the criteria for "battered woman syndrome."

"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 Chadwick said in his written decision.

Disagreeing with Ms. Parfett, Justice Chadwick said that he "had the benefit" of Mrs. Getkate's testimony and the psychiatric evidence to draw upon, and that he finds that Mrs. Getkate "would fit well up on the (battered woman) scale."

There is no minimum or maximum sentence for a manslaughter conviction. Justice Chadwick had been urged to deliver a suspended sentence by the defence while the Crown wanted a prison term as long as five years.

Justice Chadwick wrote that Mrs. Getkate clearly has tremendous remorse and guilt, and that she does not require rehabilitation.

"Lilian Getkate has rehabilitated herself," the judge said. As one of several conditions, he required Mrs. Getkate to continue attending a self-help group for emotionally dependent people.

He also required Mrs. Getkate to perform 200 hours of community service starting next year, continue counselling, and report the results of semi-annual medical check-ups to a supervisor.

Mrs. Getkate is not a danger to society, and a stay behind bars is not needed to protect the public, Justice Chadwick continued. "It is highly unlikely Lilian Getkate will ever be before the courts again in her lifetime," he wrote.

Justice Chadwick wrote that he expected any sentence he gave would be criticized. "I do not think this case can be used as a precedent for women who kill their husbands to seek and obtain a lenient sentence," he added. "This is a unique case which must be looked at on its fact basis."

Outside court, Mrs. Getkate said that she was very relieved. "I just want to go home to be with my kids," she said. "We can be together again."

The Getkates have two children, who since their father's death have lived with Mrs. Getkate's mother in Maple Ridge. Mrs. Getkate said the children know that she shot their father. "They love me and they're accepting," she said.

Mrs. Getkate also said that she was surprised by the sentence, expecting and fearing that she would be jailed.

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 resident 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 a similar defence.

One of them was Jocelyne Bennett, an Ottawa woman who in January 1993 received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

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. Mrs. 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.

In an interview outside court, the prosecutor said that she would have to give further thought to appealing the sentence.