Ottawa Citizen
Friday 2 March 2001

Wife had 'no right' to kill, Crown argues

Defence pleads: Tell Rita Graveline husband's killing was 'not her fault'

Pascal Montpetit
The Ottawa Citizen

The jury that will determine the fate of a woman facing charges of second-degree murder for killing her husband started its deliberations last night.

Yesterday, the lawyer defending Rita Graveline pleaded with the jury: "Tell her that it's not her fault. Tell her she has nothing to do with this murder with respect to her consciousness."

But the Crown told the 10-woman, one-man jury: "You are not here to determine whether Mr. Michael Graveline was a sad, pathetic person and that he deserved (to die). As much as I think Mrs. Graveline is a good person, that doesn't mean she has the right to shoot him."

Mrs. Graveline admitted to shooting her husband in his sleep on the night of Aug. 10, 1999. She claims to have no recollection of the few minutes before the incident and that she suddenly "woke up" with a smoking rifle in her hands.

Judge Martin Bedard asked the 11 jurors (one juror was excused last week for family reasons) to first consider the defence of "non-insane automatism," which must be demonstrated by the defence.

Two defence psychiatrists argued that Mrs. Graveline suffered from dissociative amnesia, a condition that would have momentarily shut down her consciousness and left her at the mercy of aggressive urges brought about by 30 years of abuse from her spouse.

The Crown's expert argued it is more probable the amnesia was triggered by the shooting itself.

Mrs. Graveline, the Crown expert contends, was conscious of her actions and the memory loss was retroactive. If the jury doesn't think the accused acted unconsciously, Judge Bedard said, they could examine the issue of self defence. Mrs. Graveline's lawyer, Marino Mendo, originally intended to use this defence by arguing that she was a victim of battered wife syndrome.

Although this condition is not an excuse for criminal conduct, it was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada and linked to self defence.

To be acquitted, Judge Bedard said, the jury must come to the conclusion that Mrs. Graveline reasonably believed her life was in danger and that killing her husband was her sole option.

Failing this, the judge said, the jury could consider the defence of provocation, and reduce the charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter.

In his closing statement, Mr. Mendo asked the jury to consider which of the two psychiatric arguments made more sense in the light of the spousal abuse demonstrated to them. And, he said, they should consider the distraught Mrs. Graveline's questions, videotaped by police -- she asked them to check whether her husband was alive or dead.

Crown prosecutor Martin Cote pointed to discrepancies between what defence witnesses said earlier in the trial.

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.