Wednesday 25 March 2015

Did the judge really murder his wife?                       

  Jacques Delisle was a Canadian judge who sat on the Quebec Superior Court from 1985 to 1992, and on the Quebec Court of Appeal from 1992 until his retirement in 2009. He and his wife, Nicole Rainville lived in an apartment building in Quebec City, Canada.

On November 12, 2009, at 10:30 a.m., Mr. Delisle called emergency services from his residence. He explained to the operator that he had just come home, that his wife aged 71, had taken her own life, and that he had no idea what had happened. He told the operator that there was a revolver next to his wife. When the operator asked whether there had been warning signs that his wife was suicidal, Mr. Delisle responded that it was a long story, that his wife had suffered a stroke in 2007 that had left her paralyzed on her right side and that she had recently been hospitalized for four months with a fractured hip. The operator then told him that the ambulance attendants were on their way.

A few minutes later, two police officers arrived at the couple's apartment to find Nicole inanimate on the living room sofa. She was lying on her back, her head resting on a bloodstained pillow and tilting slightly to the right, toward the back of the sofa. The sofa was also bloodstained. Nicole’s right arm was folded over her chest, her hand was curled up, and her left arm was hanging off the side of the sofa. A .22 calibre Sterling handgun was found on the floor, level with Nicole’s left arm, next to a firearm magazine. Although the magazine had been removed, the gun still had one bullet in it. A wound to Nicole’s left temple was visible. An officer noted that Nicole no longer had a pulse. He put pressure on her rib cage to see whether she would react to the pain; she did not.  The police officers, whose colleagues arrived in the minutes that followed, found a bullet shell casing on a coffee table to the right of the sofa, which was to the right of Nicole’s body when viewed straight on, and a gun case in the apartment's entryway.

 Delisle told the police officers in his home that his wife had shot herself in the head and that her right side was paralyzed because of a stroke. He told them that he was a retired judge. He confided to one of them how difficult it was to take care of someone who is not fully autonomous and that he had not thought that his retirement would be this way. He also explained that around 9:00 that morning, he and his wife had argued and he had said to her, “Will all this never end?” At that point, around 9:30 a.m., he had left the apartment and gone to the Roset grocery store. He said that when he returned, he found her lifeless body and that he removed the magazine himself to secure the gun and thereby avoid any possibility of it firing accidentally.

Delisle told the officers that the gun in question was his. He stated that a friend had given it to him as a gift when he used to hunt migratory birds, many years before. He added that he had kept it in his judge's office until retirement, when he brought it home. He explained that the gun had been loaded for years and had been in its case, in the apartment entranceway. He had intended to get rid of it and remit it to the police. He also told them that he had not registered it with the Canadian registry for restricted firearms. That is a criminal offence in Canada.

The ambulance attendants sent to the scene took Nicole’s vital signs and observed that she had no pulse and was not breathing. Delisle asked them on a few occasions not to perform CPR on his wife out of respect for her wishes to be permitted to die.

At the suggestion of a police officer, Mr. Delisle telephoned his daughter from a police cruiser parked outside the building. He told her that there had been a tragedy and that her mother had taken her own life, and that police officers were accompanying him to the hospital. His wife was officially declared dead in the hospital.                                           

The next day, November 12, Denis Turcotte, a crime scene technician, went to the couple’s apartment to conduct an investigation. Later, around noon, he went to the hospital to examine Nicole’s body. He observed the entrance wound caused by the projectile to the left temporal area. The wound was misshapen and black around the edges. There was no visible exit wound. He noted black smoke residue and gunpowder embedded in the skin of Nicole’s left palm. As an experienced marksman and technician, he could not explain the presence of these markings. He shared his observations with two investigators and, around 1:30 p.m., he called the pathologist to find out what measures he should take to avoid altering the stains on Nicole’s left hand. 

Two investigators met with Delisle, along with his two children and their spouses, in a hospital room. One of them informed Delisle that he could not return to his apartment for the moment because police officers were carrying out tests there. Delisle answered that nobody could stop him from returning to his home and that he refused to have any tests carried out in his absence. When warned that he could face charges if he obstructed the work of the police officers, Mr. Delisle told an investigator “I know what you're thinking, but I did not kill her.” Both investigators claimed to be very surprised by his demeanour. Delisle called the investigator back in the afternoon, however, authorizing her to search his apartment in his presence.

Nicole’s autopsy was performed on November 17, 2009. Dr. André Bourgault, a forensic pathology specialist, noted that the entry wound in the left temporal area of the head measured about 4 x 3 cm overall. The orifice measured about 1 x 1 cm and was in the appearance of as star. To Dr. Bourgault, the appearance of both the wound and the cranial fracture suggested that the tip of the barrel was either touching or very close to Nicole’s temple when the firearm was discharged. Dr. Bourgault also noted that the projectile had not exited her head. An x-ray revealed that it was still lodged in the back right corner of Nicole’s head. He concluded that the projectile “travelled from left to right in the body, from front to back, in a practically horizontal trajectory.” His autopsy report included a drawing of the assumed trajectory of the projectile showing a straight, diagonal line between the projectile's point of entry and its final position.

During his examination of the body, Dr. Bourgault noticed black smoke residue in the front part of Nicole’s left palm, near the fifth finger joint, as Mr. Turcotte had observed before him. This deposit measured about 2.6 cm by 1.4 cm. In the same area, he noted superficial scratches and powder residue. He also observed a second deposit of black smoke residue near the left thumb that was smaller and less noticeable than the first. Intrigued by these markings, Dr. Bourgault consulted Gilbert Gravel, a ballistics expert working in the same laboratory. Mr. Gravel, who was informed that Ms. Nicole’s right hand was paralyzed, handled the gun in an attempt to reproduce a position consistent with suicide that would leave such traces on the left hand. Notwithstanding the above, he came to the conclusion that Nicole’s wound could not have been self-inflicted.

His reasoning was that the pistol was a single-action trigger, that is, the hammer must first be cocked by pulling the bolt to the back and then releasing it. Thus, before the gun can be fired by pulling the trigger, the cocking of the trigger requires the use of both hands. That would not be possible in Nicole’s case since the right side of her body was paralyzed so she couldn’t have cocked the gun with her right hand or even held it still while she cocked the gun with her left hand.  That clearly means that someone else cocked the gun.

The police presumed that it was her husband who had shot her since they now knew the means in which he killed his wife. Further, the front door of the building in which their apartment was located was secured by an access code and there was no indication of any forced entry into the building or the couple's apartment while he was out of the apartment shopping. He was arrested and charged with the first degree murder of his wife.  He then was released on bail. Now the police had to find the motive for her murder.

Johanne Plamondon, Delisle's former secretary, told the investigators about her romantic relationship with Mr. Delisle that had been ongoing for some years. Their affair began in 2007, a few months before Delisle’s wife suffered her stroke. When questioned about it, two persons close to Delisle said they did not know about the affair. Between the time Delisle’s wife returned home from the hospital on October 31, 2009, and her death on November 12, 2009, Delisle told Ms. Plamondon that he was looking for an adapted living facility for his wife and raised the possibility of Delisle and Ms. Plamondon  living together.

The day after Nicole’s death, Delisle met Ms. Plamondon in the morning at their usual meeting place. Delisle appeared shaken and told her that his wife had taken her own life. He told her not to worry but that he would not contact her for a little while because there was sure to be an investigation. As to be expected, there was an investigation with respect to their relationship.  

In the spring of 2010, While. Delisle was waiting for his trial, once again he asked Ms. Plamondon to live with him, raising the possibility of her moving into his apartment. He told her that he sought a different life and that he wanted to travel, and spoke of going on a cruise that summer. During the weekend of June 13-14, Ms. Plamondon told her husband that she was leaving him to live with Mr. Delisle. This plan never came to fruition, however, as Mr. Delisle was arrested on June 15.

Delisle would have had to pay $1,402,901 to his wife in the event of a divorce because of the division of the family patrimony (hereditary estate handed down from ancestors) and their matrimonial regime of community of property. Instead, following Ms. Nicole’s death, Delisle owned all of the couple's assets as the result of a gift in contemplation of death that was made in the marriage contract.

The motives the police had searched for had been discovered.

During the trial, two ballistics expert reports were prepared at the Crown's request to determine whether it was possible for a self-inflicted gunshot to leave the markings that were found on Nicole’s left hand, considering that her right hand was paralyzed. The two experts, Gilbert Gravel and André Desmarais, presented the results of their ballistics tests at trial. Both experts excluded the suicide hypothesis, finding that it would have been impossible for Nicole to have used her left hand to pull the trigger while having the palm of this same hand close enough to the mouth of the barrel for gunpowder and sooty residue to be deposited thereon. They inferred from this that another person had to have pulled the trigger.

The defence filed a rebuttal report, which was prepared by the ballistics expert Vassili Swistounoff. Mr. Swistounoff expressed the opinion that it was possible that Nicole had put an end to her life by holding the gun in her left hand in an unusual or, in the words used at the hearing, an “unorthodox” manner, that is, upside down so that the mouth of the barrel was near her palm. According to Mr. Swistounoff, the hypothesis that the shot was self-inflicted is the most consistent with the various markings on Nicole’s body.

Other Crown (prosecution) expert witnesses were heard, including a forensic toxicologist, two forensic biologists, and a chemist. For a proper understanding of this appeal, suffice it to say that one of the forensic biologists sought to determine the exact position of Nicole’s head at the time of the shot based on the blood spatter found on the sofa. In her report, she concluded that blood spatter indicated that Nicole’s face was facing "the point of contact of the back and the seat" of the sofa when the shot was fired, indicating that Nicole’s body was turned to the right. The defence contested this conclusion, however, seeking to show on cross-examination that the blood spatter on the sofa could have come from Nicole’s mouth rather than the entrance wound on her temple.

Finally, the Crown (prosecutor) showed that the front door of the building in which Mr. Delisle and his wife's apartment was located was secured by access code and there was no indication of any forced entry into the building or the couple's apartment. On this subject, the defence acknowledged that nobody has ever argued that, if the incident was found not to have been a suicide, Nicole might have been shot by a mysterious passerby or burglar. In fact, the evidence categorically and clearly excluded this possibility, and the defence had never in any way actually suggested it.

On June 14, 2012, the jury rendered a verdict of guilty of first degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison and can only apply for parole after serving 25 years in prison. That means that he would have to be 102 years of age before he could be released from prison.

If you think that this is the ending of the story, you are wrong. His appeals were dismissed. He is currently serving his sentence in a maximum security prison in the province of Quebec.

Now he is claiming that his wife asked him to help her commit suicide and that he helped her fire the bullet into her temple. If that is so, he could be sentenced to 14 years in prison because assisting a suicide is against the law in Canada.

Why didn’t he say this at his trial?  He never took the stand. He says that it was because his children begged him not testify and make potentially embarrassing details public, including the fact that he provided his wife with the gun. Now the children are saying that it was a big mistake that he didn’t take the stand and tell the jury that he didn’t murder his wife but instead assisted her to commit suicide.

Lawyer James Lockyer, of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, told a news conference that the “Crown experts were wrong and the defence experts were right that Nicole must have committed suicide.”

He is asking that Justice Minister, MacKay order a new trial for Delisle, which would give the 79-year-old the opportunity to testify in his own defence.

If that was Delise’s only reason for asking for a new trial, I don’t think he would get much sympathy from the Minister. If I was the minister, I would keep in mind that it was always Delise’s intention to convince his jury that his wife shot herself without any help whatsoever. Even when it became obvious to him and the jury that it was impossible for her to do it alone, he still chose to stick with that story. Now that that story has been debunked, he wants to submit another story that may make better sense.

Lockyer said that three factors led to Delisle’s conviction, including the fact that the evidence at the scene did not support suicide and investigators began working on the theory that Nicole was murdered by her husband. He also said that Delisle’s last-minute decision not to testify in his own defence sealed his conviction. The judge would have warned the jury that defendants at trial are under no obligation to testify at trial and that juries should not consider that as a sign of guilt.

Juries are human beings and I am convinced in my own mind that they probably wondered why he wouldn’t tell his version of the events. Was it because the prosecutor would have shredded his story and proved that he was lying? Refusing to testify on one’s behalf is really risky and it invites doubts in the minds of jurors as to the innocence of the defendant.

In Canada, the Minister of Justice does have the authority to overturn a verdict of a trial if he really believes that the defendant didn’t get a fair trial or that the evidence was faulty.

I am not going to second guess what his decision will be but when I learn what it is, I will update this article at the bottom of the article. 

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