MONTREAL — A Montreal man who was convicted on Saturday of killing his ailing wife said he'd finally be able to mourn her after a jury found him guilty of the lesser of the two possible charges against him.
Tears rolled down Michel Cadotte's face as he walked from the courtroom with his lawyer's arm around him after a jury returned a manslaughter verdict in the suffocation death of Jocelyne Lizotte, who was in the last stages of Alzheimer's disease.
In a brief statement to reporters, Cadotte thanked the jury and said he was relieved by the verdict.
When asked how he was feeling, he mumbled, "I feel better. I'll mourn now," before declining to speak further.
The eight-man, four-woman jury had only two verdicts open to them: second-degree murder or manslaughter.
They had requested permission late Friday to re-listen to Cadotte's testimony, but in the end they didn't need it, as they reached a unanimous verdict midway through the third full day of deliberations.
In convicting Cadotte of manslaughter, they sided with the defence lawyers, who had argued their client was in a disturbed state of mind and acted impulsively on Feb. 20, 2017, seeking to end his wife's suffering.
Lizotte, 60, was suffocated in her long-term care bed at a Montreal facility where she was receiving treatment for the final stages of Alzheimer's disease, which had left her incapable of recognizing her family or taking care of herself.
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.
In thanking the jury, Quebec Superior Court Justice Helene Di Salvo acknowledged the case was "one of the most emotional" she'd heard.
Outside the courtroom, Cadotte's lawyers said that while they were pleased with the verdict, there was no satisfaction to be found in such a tragic story.
Defence lawyer Elfriede Duclervil described Lizotte's illness as a "tsunami" that rocked her family and caused "a long and slow work of demolition" on Cadotte.
"That's what we told the jury, and they understood," she said. She declined to say what sentence the defence will suggest when sentencing hearings begin March 5.
The Crown, on the other hand, had argued that Cadotte was in full control and had intended to kill his wife of 19 years, who was unable to care for herself.
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.
Following the verdict, Crown prosecutor Genevieve Langlois thanked the jury and expressed sympathy for Lizotte's family.
"We hope this verdict brings them some serenity," she said. She said the Crown would analyze whether any errors had been committed before deciding whether to appeal.
There is no minimum sentence for a manslaughter conviction, unless a firearm was used.
Cadotte's lawyers had argued, without the jury present, that an acquittal should be possible, but the judge ruled it wasn't an option.
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 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."
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.
Morgan Lowrie and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press