Abandoning a Murder-Suicide Pact: the Case of Cathie Gauthier in the Supreme Court of Canada

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On October 24, 2009, Cathie Gauthier was found guilty of the murder of her three children following a murder-suicide pact with her husband. The guilty verdict, handed down by the Quebec Superior Court and confirmed by the Quebec Court of Appeal, is being challenged in the Supreme Court of Canada starting on December 13.

The Supreme Court will not be re-doing the trial in the case. Instead, it will examine the decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal. One aspect of the case the Supreme Court will examine is whether the Superior Court judge made legal mistakes when giving instructions to the jury.

This article explains the role of the Supreme Court in the Gauthier case.

Ms. Gauthier's Main Defence

At her trial in 2009, Cathie Gauthier's main defence was that there was no murder-suicide pact. She argued, among other things, that when her husband suggested the pact, she felt mentally disconnected. She said that because of her psychological state, she never intended to kill her children. She added that, in any event, she had abandoned the plan to kill the children.

The jury rejected her defence and concluded based on the evidence that she and her husband had entered into a murder-suicide pact. The jury found Cathie Gauthier guilty of murdering her three children.

The evidence the jury saw included letters written by Ms. Gauthier about the existence and planning of a family scheme to ?leave this world and never return?. There was also evidence that she had bought the medication her husband used to poison the children. In addition, a psychiatrist who was a witness at the trial harshly criticized her statement that she was mentally disconnected.

Alternative Defence: Abandonment

Ms. Gauthier argued before the Court of Appeal in 2011 that the trial judge should have instructed the jury to consider the defence of abandonment, which he did not do. She said that if the jury had been instructed to consider this alternative defence, it could have then decided whether she had in fact abandoned the murder-suicide pact.

Did the trial judge give the right instructions to the jury?

Trial Judge's Instructions to the Jury

The judge must tell the jury to consider any defence that is relevant in light of the evidence presented at the trial, and which could lead to a not-guilty verdict.

In the Gauthier case, the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial judge was not required to submit the defence of abandonment to the jury because it contradicted Ms. Gauthier's main defence:

  • At trial, Ms. Gauthier argued that there was no murder-suicide pact and that she never intended to kill her children. (Ms. Gauthier's main defence)
  • If the jury didn't believe her, she can't then argue that a murder-suicide pact existed but that she had abandoned the pact. (Ms. Gauthier's alternative defence)

The Supreme Court of Canada's Role in the Gauthier Case

On December 13, 2012, one of the questions the Supreme Court of Canada will be considering is whether the Court of Appeal was mistaken about the trial judge's instructions to the jury.

The Supreme Court could do any of the following:

  • rule that the Superior Court's decision at the trial stage was correct
  • make a whole new decision or a different decision on only certain parts of the Superior Court's decision
  • order a new trial (the file would be transferred back to the Superior Court)

 

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