MONTREAL — A doctor who stabbed his children to death was found not criminally responsible by a jury Tuesday — a controversial decision that prompted a backlash from outraged Quebecers.
It was on their sixth day of deliberations at Guy Turcotte’s high-profile double murder trial that the jury emerged with a unanimous verdict.
The ruling that a mental breakdown absolved Turcotte of criminal guilt was met with anger and incomprehension from the public and on social networking sites.
The shocking details of the case have been front and centre in the news for the past few months as the sensational trial made Turcotte a household name in the province.
The children’s mother, Isabelle Gaston, wept afterwards. She expressed a desire to move on with her life.
“With this verdict, my path will really not be easy,” Gaston told reporters in Saint-Jerome, Que.
“I’m in shock.”
She seemed aware of the potential public anger against her ex-husband. At two points during a scrum with reporters outside the courtroom, Gaston warned against further violence.
Turcotte had been charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of his son Olivier, 5, and daughter Anne-Sophie, 3.
While the 39-year-old former cardiologist had admitted to causing the deaths of the children in a rented home north of Montreal in 2009, he had denied intent.
The defence focused on Turcotte’s state of mind at the time of the killings and dragged out its closing argument over an exhaustive four days, compared to the prosecution’s several hours.
Turcotte testified that he only remembered bits and pieces of the evening; experts testifying on his behalf said he snapped after learning his wife was cheating on him and his marriage was finished.
Turcotte said he planned to end his own life on the night of Feb. 20, 2009 after reading e-mails between his ex-wife Isabelle Gaston and her new lover, her personal trainer Martin Huot.
He started drinking windshield washer fluid to that end, but decided at some point that he didn’t want his children to wake up the following morning and find their father dead.
So, according to his testimony, Turcotte decided that he’d take the children with him.
Turcotte’s lawyers argued that the former cardiologist loved his children but was unable to cope with the breakup of his marriage.
Feeling increasingly marginalized, he had sunk into a deep depression in the days leading up to his children’s deaths. The killings occurred just one month after the couple had split.
The jury of seven women and four men had several possible verdicts from which to choose: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, or not criminally responsible by reason of mental illness.
Acquittal was not an option.
Turcotte will head back to jail before being moved to a mental hospital where he will soon undergo an evaluation by Quebec’s review board for mental disorder. If they deem him fit, he could potentially be released.
The trial lasted about two months and heard from nearly 40 witnesses, including numerous experts.
Hundreds of people took to Twitter and other social media to discuss the verdict.
Several major Quebec television personalities even weighed in to express their own personal disgust with the outcome.
“Very, very, very disappointing verdict. Criminally not responsible! I don’t believe it,” wrote Guy A. Lepage, host of popular television talk show Tout le monde en parle, on his own Twitter account.
Another prominent Quebec TV personality, Julie Snyder, wrote that she was crying while thinking of the verdict: “I’m astonished,” she added.
Veteran lawyer Robert La Haye said the public’s emotional response is not surprising, but it’s important to remember that juries are not supposed to be populist.
He said they render justice based on evidence.
“They weighed the evidence, dissected it and decided at the end of the day, and concluded reasonably and without emotion,” La Haye said.
“Once the emotion is gone, we can say that there were 12 people there who were best placed to decide what the evidence revealed.”
The children’s tearful mother asked outside the courtroom to be left alone so that she could have her privacy again.
She wept as she thanked her children for all they had given her. She said she wished for a sign that, wherever they are, they are happy.
The case captured the attention of people living far beyond the town, about an hour north of Montreal.
Members of the public lined up for hours before the beginning of each day of the trial to secure a spot in the courtroom to hear the case.
Gaston said she wouldn’t sit through another trial but Crown prosecutor Claudia Carbonneau said the Crown would take its time before deciding whether to appeal.
“Our thoughts are with Anne-Sophie and Olivier and the family,” Carbonneau said.
The case continued with 11 jurors after a twelfth juror was outed for having exhibited a clear bias against Turcotte in his case and expelled promptly by Superior Court Justice Marc David.