MONTREAL — He stabbed his children 46 times. He was freed after 46 months.
In the latest twist in a case that has shocked Quebecers, a cardiologist who killed his two children was granted his release from a psychiatric institution Wednesday, with conditions.
The decision to release Guy Turcotte came as little surprise. A jury last year had found him not criminally responsible for killing his three-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.
Since the court verdict, he had been in Montreal’s Pinel institute where a panel Wednesday found him mentally fit to be released. The case had provoked a torrent of outrage in Quebec, with Turcotte becoming a household name.
Turcotte told the hearing Wednesday that he wants to lead a regular, productive life — but he’s concerned about his newfound notoriety.
“I’d like to work, to do some good around me,” the cardiologist told the panel.
“My biggest challenge will be dealing with others, with the public. There’s been a lot of badmouthing, a lot of things that will be said. There will be a lot of prejudice against me.”
In reacting to Wednesday’s decision, his ex-wife said she didn’t blame the panel that released Turcotte.
She said it had few legal options, and she added that she was actually pleased with the conditions it had imposed. What she blamed was the broader justice system.
“So we’re freeing a criminal,” said Isabelle Gaston, the children’s mother. “I don’t have faith anymore in our justice system — not with the current rules…
“I continue to hope the justice system changes. If things don’t change … injustices will continue. Like this one … and the ones you don’t hear about.”
Gaston said she has spent a year researching cases like this and has seen huge disparities in the verdict depending on several factors — the judge, the experience of the lawyers in the case, and how rich the defendant is which she says will influence the quality of the defense.
She said she hopes for changes in the way evidence is presented. But she said she still believes in the role of jury trials — despite last year’s jury decision to let Turcotte go.
The cardiologist had admitted to stabbing his young children 46 times.
But he said he didn’t remember doing it, hadn’t wanted to do it, and had been experiencing blackouts on the night of the killings.
He said he was distraught over the breakup of his marriage. Gaston had left him for a family friend who was her personal trainer.
Turcotte’s release was unanimously approved by a three-member panel. He will have to get annual mental-health checkups, continue his therapy, stay out of trouble, get approval for his choice of address, and avoid all contact with his ex-wife.
But his legal woes are not quite over yet: the Crown has filed to appeal the 2011 court verdict.
His psychiatrist said he didn’t object to Turcotte’s release, as long as he continued his therapy. Pierre Rochette said that after a reluctant start, his patient had opened up in recent months and made significant progress.
“At this time I don’t see any immediate or long-term danger,” Rochette said.
“(But) he’ll have to find an inner peace after everything that’s happened. That has yet to occur.”
Rochette added that an unconditional release would have been a bad idea, because of the progress Turcotte was making through therapy.
Several cases like Turcotte’s, including the 2008 bus-beheading in Manitoba and the Schoenborn child-killings in B.C., have prompted a federal policy change.
The Harper government plans to make it more difficult for mentally ill offenders found not criminally responsible to be released from custody.
The government announced proposed amendments to the Criminal Code last month, in the latest in a series of tough-on-crime initiatives by the Conservative government.
The Tories plan to introduce a bill in the House of Commons early next year that would make the safety of the public the paramount factor for review boards that determine an offender’s release