MONTREAL — A jury has found a Montreal man guilty of manslaughter in the killing of his ailing wife.
Michel Cadotte was on trial for second-degree murder in the suffocation death of Jocelyne Lizotte, who was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Crown had argued that Cadotte had intended to kill his wife of 19 years, who was unable to care for herself.
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Defence lawyers argued their client was in a disturbed state of mind and acted impulsively on Feb. 20, 2017, seeking to end his wife’s suffering.
Jurors had only two verdicts open to them: second-degree murder or manslaughter.
The crime had been framed in the media as a compassion killing — an offence that doesn’t exist in the Criminal Code. The trial, which began Jan. 14, heard that Cadotte had inquired about a medically assisted death for Lizotte a year before she was killed.
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Justice Helene Di Salvo told jurors their deliberations would not consider the laws around medically assisted death or the quality of care provided in long-term care centres like the one in which Lizotte lived, even if those issues inevitably surfaced in the case.
“Your functions are limited to whether the prosecution proved the culpability of Mr. Cadotte beyond a reasonable doubt on either second-degree murder or manslaughter,” Di Salvo said.
Cadotte’s lawyers had argued, without the jury present, that an acquittal should be possible, but the judge ruled it wasn’t an option.
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The accused had admitted to killing Lizotte and the legal criteria had not been met for acquittal, Di Salvo ruled. In her final instructions, she told the jurors they should not take into account the potential sentence, because sentencing is the judge’s responsibility.
Second-degree murder carries a life sentence without possibility of parole for at least 10 years while there is no minimum sentence for a manslaughter conviction, unless a firearm was used in the crime.
The Crown had argued Cadotte was in full control and intended to take Lizotte’s life.
A physician from the Emilie-Gamelin long-term care facility testified that although Lizotte had late-stage Alzheimer’s and was detached from reality, she was not deemed to be at the end of her life. She was receiving care to keep her comfortable but wasn’t at a point where palliative care was necessary.
Cadotte had spent years caring for his wife, even after her she was placed in care. He did her laundry because Lizotte’s immune system was weak, and he didn’t want her clothes washed with other patients. He had a hairdresser visit every month and had a television installed in her room so she could listen to music. He also made sure she had better quality lotions, soaps and shampoos. He gave her with chocolate — her one luxury — whenever he could.
The court heard Lizotte’s family was largely unable to cope with her illness and Cadotte was left to handle her care.
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The defence argued that years of caring for her had taken its toll on Cadotte, who was increasingly isolated in the weeks leading up to his wife’s slaying and spent the weekend before drinking heavily after friction with his own family.
Long critical of her care, Cadotte testified it saddened him to see Lizotte on the day of the killing with her neck bent, sitting in a geriatric chair without a specialized head rest.
He cried as he struggled to feed her lunch and then placed a pillow under her head. Cadotte said he couldn’t explain what happened, but after a couple of attempts, he placed the pillow over her face and smothered her.
“She was suffering too much,” Cadotte testified. “I didn’t want her to suffer anymore. I was suffering for her.”
He then told a senior nurse that he had suffocated her and asked her to call 911. He made several calls to relatives in which he admited to the killing, and he sent a text to Lizotte’s brother Sylvain, writing, “Sorry brother-in-law, I know I’ve caused you hurt, but I cracked.”
Cadotte testified that he felt tremendous guilt when he decided in March 2013 that he could no longer care for Lizotte at home, because she had often told him she didn’t want to end up in care like her own mother — who’d also suffered from Alzheimer’s.
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He testified that other relatives had distanced themselves, but he couldn’t follow suit.
“She was my wife. I loved her,” Cadotte told the court. “I wasn’t able to (leave her).”
Experts offered differing opinions on Cadotte’s state of mind at the time of the killing.
A psychiatrist testifying for the defence told the jury that Cadotte was still suffering from depression diagnosed a few years earlier. While he was not psychotic and knew right from wrong, his mental state affected his ability to make decisions on the day of the killing, the expert said.
A defence psychologist testified Cadotte had a disturbed state of mind and was caught between a desire to ensure his wife got the best care and her previously expressed desire not to live in such a condition.
But an expert for the Crown countered that Cadotte showed no evidence of major depression at the time of the slaying. He said heavy alcohol consumption may have contributed to a mood disorder on that day.