Monday 28 December 1998
Crime and punishment in '98
One woman is jailed for neglecting dogs, another is set free after killing her husband. Peter Hum reports on high-profile sentences.Peter Hum
The Ottawa Citizen
Nineteen ninety-eight will go down, in Ottawa Crown attorney Andrejs Berzins's opinion, as the year when one woman was jailed for neglecting dogs while another was set free after killing her husband.
Lilian Getkate, 38, was sentenced to serve two years less a day in her home for the shooting death of her husband, Maury, as he sleep.
Kitty Racicot, 27, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for neglecting about 30 dogs in her care.
Julie Oliver, the Ottawa Citizen / Andrejs Berzins reflects on some of the sensations cases of past year.
"I know each set of circumstances is different," Mr. Berzins said as he reviewed a summary of high-profile sentences handed out this year in Ottawa. "But those two cases stand in stark contrast to each other."
The sentences that Lilian Getkate and Kitty Racicot received are the first that spring to mind when Mr. Berzins looks back on the year in punishment. For him, they raise a key question: Who goes to jail and who doesn't?
Mrs. Getkate, 38, was sentenced to serve two years less a day in her home after a jury in October convicted her of manslaughter. Mrs. Getkate, who now lives in Maple Ridge, B.C., shot to death her sleeping husband, Maury, in Ottawa in 1995, and testified that she had been a battered spouse.
After a jury convicted Mrs. Getkate of the lesser charge of manslaughter (she was charged with second-degree murder), Justice James Chadwick, who sentenced her, said she "fit well up on the scale" for battered spouses.
Ms. Racicot, 27, pleaded guilty to neglecting or causing pain to more than 30 dogs after Humane Society of Ottawa-Carleton officials last year rescued dozens of chihuahuas living in deplorable conditions in the woman's home. Judge Lynn Ratushny, who spoke sympathetically about the socially isolated accused woman, nonetheless decided that 30 days in jail were required to demonstrate society's intolerance for animal abuse.
"The public may have some difficulty" with the contrast of the two sentences, Mr. Berzins said. Along with several other Ottawa cases this year, they reveal that the courts are "still quite unsettled" when it comes to so-called "conditional sentences," which allow people to serve their sentences at home, often under "house arrest" conditions.
Mr. Berzins said the conditional sentences for Mrs. Getkate and for Angele Brisson, a former armoured car driver who stole a bag of money, are cause for concern.
"I really question whether conditional sentences are appropriate in those cases," he said.
In some respects, the women were reasonable candidates for conditional sentences, Mr. Berzins said. "Both of the women are unlikely to commit further offences and can be safely dealt with in the community," he said.
But "I question whether a conditional sentence takes into account other principles of sentencing: denunciation and deterrence."
Mr. Berzins said he expects that Ontario's Court of Appeal may set some guidelines on conditional sentences with future rulings. However, his office was unable to persuade the province's attorney general's office to allow an appeal of the sentence for Mrs. Getkate.
Glancing over almost three dozen sentences handed down this year, Mr. Berzins does see some encouraging trends.
He noted that the judges sentenced heavily when violent crimes were committed during home invasions.
He also said that in two instances, judges were persuaded by prosecutors to designate accused men as offenders with special status.
In January, Karl Rowlee, a 51-year-old habitual robber who most recently terrorized a woman in a 1993 purse-snatching, was declared a dangerous offender, likely to re-offend if ever released from behind bars.
In June, David Fox, a 35-year-old developmentally disabled man who had a history of choking women for sexual pleasure, was declared a long-term offender after he assaulted a female cleaner at the Ottawa General Hospital in November 1997. Mr. Fox, Mr. Berzins noted, has since been charged with assaulting a female prison guard.
Mr. Berzins acknowledged that prosecutors have had input in sentences that may have struck the public as too soft.
As an example, he offered the one-year jail sentence given to James Cartwright, an Ottawa man who last Christmas Eve ran a red light and struck a Richmond couple's car, killing two people.
"The consequences in a case like that are so devastating," he said. But in that case, a prosecutor and defence lawyer together proposed the sentence to the judge, after the prosecutor reviewed the evidence and its potential weaknesses. "It was quite unclear if we would get a conviction," Mr. Berzins said.