Guy Turcotte was a well-regarded doctor despondent over his wife’s affair, and one night, while she was off on a weekend ski trip, he did the unimaginable: He stabbed the couple’s two young children in their beds, killing them both.
According to his legal defence, the cardiologist was a loving father and “normal” guy who simply snapped. And in a verdict that shocked a province on Tuesday, a jury unanimously agreed.
Mr. Turcotte was found not criminally responsible for the double slaying of his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, meaning that the 39-year-old will head to a psychiatric hospital rather than a prison cell.
The Turcotte trial had riveted Quebec with its depictions of marital conflicts, parental brutality, and the jarring portrayal of an MD cast in the role of killer rather than healer. On social media sites and online commentary, response to the verdict gelled into widespread outrage; a Facebook page protesting the outcome had more than 1,000 members by evening.
“The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is therefore true,” said one comment posted on a news website. “It gives you the shivers.”
Through its verdict, the jury settled for the most lenient fate for Mr. Turcotte, who no longer has his doctor’s licence. Since he’d admitted he’d stabbed and caused the deaths of his children Olivier and Anne-Sophie, jurors could not acquit him.
However, they were given the option of finding him guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, or manslaughter; meanwhile, his defence argued he could be found non-criminally responsible because, in legal terms, his mental state prevented him from appreciating the nature of his acts.
The verdict brought a tearful response from Isabelle Gaston, the mother of the two slain children, who attended the full trial at the courthouse in Saint-Jérôme, north of Montreal.
“I am in shock,” said Dr. Gaston, an emergency-room physician (the couple met at medical school). “I am disappointed for Olivier and Anne-Sophie and for all children who could be in danger simply because of a separation, like ours. That is mainly why I’m disappointed with the verdict.”
During the 10-week trial, jurors were told that Dr. Turcotte had grown increasingly distraught over the disintegration of his marriage. His wife – described as being as outgoing and sociable as he was solitary and methodical – had taken up with her personal trainer, who was also a friend of the couple’s. Dr. Turcotte learned of the affair through the trainer’s wife, and in early 2009 he moved out of the family home in Prévost, in the Laurentians.
On Feb. 20, while his wife was out of town, he took his children to rent a video, in a family scene captured on the store’s camera that shows the last images of the children alive.
Then, after putting the two to bed in the home he’d rented, he sat down and read a series of intimate e-mails between his wife and her new lover. Afterward, he began to search the Internet for ways to kill himself. He called his mother, telling her he loved her and lamenting to her that his estranged wife and her new boyfriend “did it in my house, in my bed.”
After ingesting windshield-wiper fluid, the court heard, he decided that he wanted to spare his children from finding their father dead when they woke up. He went to his son’s bedroom, stabbed him 27 times, then moved to his daughter’s room and stabbed her 19 times.
Police found him the next morning hiding under his bed in the master bedroom, conscious.
His future now rests with a Quebec review board for mental disorders that will evaluate whether he poses a public safety risk; its members will decide whether Mr. Turcotte will be discharged or detained in hospital. Given Mr. Turcotte’s portrayal in court as an otherwise normal man of sound mind, some predict he could walk within weeks or months.
Dr. Gaston says she has no interest in appealing the verdict. She told reporters at the courthouse that she hopes her children’s deaths carry a lesson. “We have to understand that adults don’t have a right to life and death of a child, they don’t have a right to violence,” she said, “even if there’s conflict and torture in their own lives.”