Montreal man convicted of manslaughter for killing wife who had Alzheimer's

Michel Cadotte, 57, admitted to suffocating Jocelyne Lizotte, who was in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease. A jury found him guilty of manslaughter.

Michel Cadotte, 57, admitted to suffocating Jocelyne Lizotte, who was in the late stages of the disease

Michel Cadotte answers reporters' questions after learning he was convicted of manslaughter at the Montreal courthouse while his lawyer, Elfriede Duclervil, looks on. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

A jury has opted for the lesser of two possible verdicts suggested by a judge, finding Montrealer Michel Cadotte guilty of manslaughter for the 2017 death of his ailing wife.

The jurors began their deliberations on Feb. 20, two years to the day after Jocelyne Lizotte, 60, was found dead in her bed at a long-term care home in Montreal's east end.

The verdict came on the third day of deliberations. Some of the jurors sighed audibly as they left the room.

Cadotte, 57, admitted to suffocating Lizotte, who was in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease. The court heard she had lost complete physical and cognitive autonomy.

"I want to thank the jury and the court for listening," Cadotte said in a hallway at the Montreal courtroom Saturday afternoon.

When asked how he felt when he heard the verdict, he replied, "It's emotional, for sure."

Crown prosecutor Geneviève Langlois said it was too soon to say whether there will be an appeal.

She thanked the jury for their work, acknowledging they had a tough job to do.

Defence lawyer Nicolas Welt said he and his colleague, fellow defence lawyer Elfriede Duclervil, were satisfied with the verdict, as was Cadotte. 

"But I can say no one –— neither us, nor Madame Lizotte's family — is satisfied with what happened. It's a sad story. It was a moment of human weakness that had absolutely devastating consequences for both Madame Lizotte and Monsieur Cadotte," Welt said. 

Testifying in his own defence, Cadotte said he killed Lizotte because he couldn't stand seeing his wife continue to suffer.

In her instructions to the jury, Superior Court Justice Hélène Di Salvo said the eight men and four women had two options: to find Cadotte guilty of second-degree murder or guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, as sought by the defendant's legal team. He could not be acquitted. 

Cadotte's sentencing hearing will be March 5.

After they delivered the verdict, Di Salvo thanked the jurors for their "meticulous, conscientious and professional" work.

"I was very impressed that so many of you were taking notes," Di Salvo said, repeating an observation she had also made during the trial. 

She added that the jury had been one of the youngest she'd ever seen in her career.

No access to medical aid in dying

The court heard that Cadotte had made inquiries about how to seek medical assistance in dying on his wife's behalf in 2014.

He was told Lizotte would be ineligible because her death was not imminent, and she was not coherent enough to consent — key criteria under Quebec's law.

Cadotte's lawyers argued their client's judgment on the day of his wife's death was clouded by a major depression and years of suffering.

Cadotte testified that he was having family issues that week and cut off contact with children he had had with another woman. He drank heavily the night before and took a higher amount of prescription pills than usual, he said.

In her closing remarks, defence lawyer Elfriede Duclervil said Cadotte devoted all of his time to caring for his wife of 19 years, which led to serious financial and mental health issues.

She said he had little support and watched as Lizotte's condition worsened, believing she was being mistreated by staff at the long-term care residence.

He lost control, she said.

Jocelyne Lizotte, left, and her sister Johanne Lizotte are seen in this undated handout photo provided by Quebec Superior Court. (Handout/Quebec Superior Court/The Canadian Press)

Duclervil called the illness "a tsunami that wreaked havoc, that swept a mother, sister, wife and friend away," speaking of Lizotte.

"The wave then pushed Michel to the limits of his strength until he cracked," she said.

Crown prosecutor Langlois argued Cadotte understood the consequences of his actions.

Langlois argued the defendant intended to kill Lizotte, even if that decision was made at the spur of the moment.

She said suffocating someone does not happen within seconds — and noted Cadotte even took time to close his wife's eyes after she died.

In her closing remarks, Langlois asked the jury whether someone who hadn't intended to kill would have acted that way.

Di Salvo told the jurors they shouldn't take public opinion into account in their decision-making, even though there has been an unprecedented amount of public discussion about medical assistance in death and of the quality of care in Quebec's publicly funded seniors' residences.