Thursday 26 November 1998
'I'm getting on with my life'
Lilian Getkate, the woman who shot her husband dead and didn't go to jail for it, says she's shocked, and a little angry, over the media's handling of her case.Ron Corbett
The Ottawa Citizen
MAPLE RIDGE, B.C. -Lilian Getkate grew up in this town, now little more than a suburb of Vancouver, the suburb past Burnaby today. And it was here that she returned after killing her husband, Maury Getkate, on Dec. 8, 1995.
Kim Skallknecht, The Ottawa Citizen / Lilian Getkate hopes to soon regain custody of her daughter Dara, 12, and son Kevin, 8. The children are living with their grandmother.
As many news stories have noted, Mrs. Getkate spent a grand total of 11 days in jail for that killing. The rest of the time, for the most part, and with the notable exception of her three-week criminal trial in Ottawa last month, Lilian Getkate has been living in Maple Ridge.
She lives here with her father. Her mother lives a five-minute drive away, and has custody of Mrs. Getkate's two children, Dara, 12, and Kevin, eight. Lilian Getkate sees her children almost daily, and has done so since shortly after the killing of their father.
Until recently, not many people in Maple Ridge knew Lilian Getkate. That all changed last month when an Ottawa jury found the 38-year-old woman guilty of only manslaughter for pumping two bullets into her husband while he slept.
When Justice James Chadwick later sentenced Mrs. Getkate to a term of little more than community service for the killing -- no jail time -- she became a national story.
(The day after Judge Chadwick's sentence, Mrs. Getkate was on the front page of the Vancouver Province. The headline read: Killer Mom Home Free. Home, in this case, is Maple Ridge, where the Province is widely distributed. There have been few secrets in Maple Ridge since.)
Last week Mrs. Getkate was reached in Maple Ridge, and after speaking to her lawyer, she agreed to an interview. Because the Crown attorney's office in Ottawa is trying to appeal her sentence (the Crown still wants a jail term, and has been quite vocal about it), she refused to talk about the night she killed her husband, or the reasons for it.
"All that is in the court record, in the testimony I gave," she said over the phone. "Because of the appeal I won't discuss it now."
She paused after that, went on to say she'd love to talk about it, but on her lawyer's advice she couldn't, apologized for that, said she was surprised at all the media interest in her case, still can't get used to seeing her picture on the front page of the newspaper, or hearing her name on a radio call-in show, made a joke about Gillian Guess, and then said:
"If you want to know how I'm doing, though, and how the children are doing, sure, you can come over to mom's place and talk to me."
It was late in the afternoon and she had just arrived at her mother's after picking up her children at school. I was already in Maple Ridge. We agreed to meet in 10 minutes.
The house was located in a quiet, middle-class neighbourhood on the edge of town, a two-storey, two-car-garage house on a cul-de-sac. Dara and Kevin Getkate have lived here for nearly three years.
Lilian Getkate had worked earlier in the day at a print shop in Burnaby where she has worked for more than a year, and was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt when she answered the door.
She is younger than she tends to appear in photographs, and slighter as well. She is a small woman, with piercing eyes, her eyes being the feature that comes across best in photographs, and that ages her, and she talks in an assured manner.
"This past week it's been a bit rough at work," she said after we had sat down. "There has been gossip from some of the people I work with. Up until the sentencing, not many people knew me. Then my face is in the paper.
"I'm still surprised, a little shocked, a little angry, at how it's been handled. The title (in the Province) angered me. 'Killer Mom.' I didn't think that was right."
Although, one could argue, quite accurate. Lilian Getkate, mother of two, did indeed kill her husband, while her children slept nearby. No one ever disputed the facts.
But by arguing that Mrs. Getkate was a battered spouse, and in a "disassociative state" at the time of the killing, her lawyer, Pat McCann, seemed to convince first the jury, and then certainly the judge, that his client should not receive a jail term for the crime.
She was as much a victim as anyone else, the argument seemed to go. Some cynics would argue she became even more of a victim than the slain Maury Getkate, whom friends and family described as a wonderful man and anything but a wife-beater.
Still, Maury Getkate was dead and the sentence for killing him was no jail time. It was a turn of events that surprised even Lilian Getkate.
"I was startled," she admitted. "I took someone's life and I'm not going to jail. Of course I'm surprised by that.
"I was quite prepared to go to jail. I was packed, my things were in boxes, I thought I was going to jail. My lawyer had told me to expect about three years. That's what I thought I was going to get."
And then she got community service and a 10-year ban from owning a firearm. Even in Vancouver the sentence was the talk of the radio shows.
The Getkate children are well aware of the controversy over their mother's sentence. Kevin, in Grade 3, brought in stories from the Citizen for show and tell. An odd story, when you stop to think about it.
Apparently it went over well, though, his mother's murder-trial clippings -- how mom killed dad -- shown to a Grade 3 class in Maple Ridge. The teachers thanked him. The children asked excited questions.
"We have let the children see everything," explained Mrs. Getkate. "They've read all the articles and I think they're handling it well. Dara has questions and I try to answer them as best I can. Kevin doesn't talk about it much.
"They've had counselling, off and on, although they're not getting any now. Really, the kids are doing great."
Mrs. Getkate even hopes to be reunited with her children next month. She has plans to rent a house in Maple Ridge, with friends, and then apply for formal custody of the children. The family may be reunited before Christmas. The children say they are looking forward to that.
"I want us to be back together," said Dara. "We get spoiled here (at her grandmother's home) but I want to be back with my mom. It's been a long time."
Lilian Getkate has vague plans to go back to school, maybe get a job in the "helping industry" (she has worked at nursing homes in the past), although for the moment, she'll continue at the print shop. It's casual work and her counsellors and doctors have told her she shouldn't work full time yet.
Eventually she says she may even want to work with "battered women and women in abusive relationships. I think I have something to give. Because of my experiences, I can help."
Next month the Crown will find out if it can appeal Lilian Getkate's sentence. There is still a chance she can go to jail, although, according to Mr. McCann, not a very good chance. He says case law is on his side. Either the attorney general will see that, or the appeals court will see that.
Certainly, Lilian Getkate has put any thought of jail behind her.
"I'm getting on with my life now," she said last week from Maple Ridge. "If things go well, I'll be back with my children by Christmas. I just want to live quietly with my children.
"Those people who are saying all those things about me, unless they've walked a mile in my shoes, why would they want to judge me? Let me just go away."