MONTREAL – Quebec’s top court has ordered a new trial in the notorious case of Guy Turcotte, whose non-conviction after stabbing his children to death helped inspire changes in the justice system.
Turcotte was the former physician who repeatedly stabbed his children as his marriage was falling apart, one night in February 2009.
But he was found not criminally responsible at his murder trial, when a jury accepted his argument he could not recall the events and had experienced blackouts.
The controversial case made Turcotte a household name in Quebec and the verdict provoked a torrent of outrage.
The mother of the two children, Turcotte’s ex-wife, told a Montreal radio station Wednesday she froze upon learning that a new trial had been ordered.
“I cannot describe how I feel,” Isabelle Gaston told 98.5 FM.
“I’m in shock.”
Gaston, who became an outspoken advocate for justice reform after the deaths of Olivier and Anne-Sophie, said a second trial could never fix the damage and the distress she suffered during the first one.
“People think that for me this is a question of victory, but for me there will never be winners — there are two losers,” Gaston, herself an emergency-room physician, said in the interview.
Turcotte’s case was one of several infamous decisions that helped spur new federal legislation aimed at making it harder for those found not criminally responsible to gain their freedom.
Turcotte, who stabbed his son and daughter 46 times, was freed after 46 months of detention in a prison and, eventually, a mental institution.
The Quebec Court of Appeal has now ruled that legal errors were committed in the original trial — including by the Superior Court judge who presided over it.
Turcotte drank washer fluid later that evening in what he says was an attempt to kill himself. The Crown said a not-criminally-responsible verdict should only be reserved for cases of mental illness, not ones where a suicide attempt might have triggered an after-the-fact blackout.
The appeals court verdict sided with such critics.
“The burden of proof was on the accused to show that he was suffering from an incapacitating mental illness — distinct from the intoxication symptoms — and it was the jury’s job to decide,” said the ruling rendered Wednesday.
“But the judge did not remind jurors of that distinction.”
The verdict conceded that the judge had a difficult role, and wasn’t helped by the fact that the Crown argued its points in a way that was “sometimes confused.”
That being said, according to the appeals court, “his instructions (to the jury) were deficient, which necessarily had a major impact on the verdict.”
The defence argued during the appeal process that the Crown had plenty of time to raise objections before the jury went into deliberations.
Attorney Pierre Poupart told the court in September that both sides agreed to the parameters of the trial and the Crown knew what was at stake when the not-criminally-responsible defence was introduced.
Poupart argued that the jury came to a reasonable verdict and he stressed it was important for the appeals court to avoid being used as an unofficial 13th juror.