QUEBEC – An emotional courthouse scene erupted as Jacques Delisle, believed to be the first Canadian judge to ever stand trial for murder, was found guilty Thursday of having shot his wife in the head with a pistol.
The first-degree murder verdict means the 77-year-old retired judge will automatically receive the sternest possible punishment in the Criminal Code: life in prison, with no possibility of parole for a quarter-century.
The voice of the presiding judge, Claude C. Gagnon, trembled as he explained that sentence.
The accused buried his face in his hands upon hearing the verdict. He slammed his fist into a table and said, “For God’s sake, no.”
There were pained screams from his family. Over in the public gallery, Delisle’s son inexplicably removed his jacket and began unbuckling his belt, before being ordered to calm down by courthouse constables. He pleaded for the chance to hug his father – and was denied.
With that, the once-prominent judge was escorted from the courtroom as a convict. It had taken an eight-man, four-woman jury just under three days to reach its decision.
The Crown prosecutor said the outcome proved that “nobody is above the law, regardless of title, regardless of profession, regardless of someone’s place in society.”
But he did express sympathy for the son following the emotional scene: “The mother is dead, and then the father is in jail for the rest of his life,” said Crown lawyer Steve Magnan. “So I do understand the reaction that they had.”
It will now be up to Delisle’s lawyers to decide on an appeal. It’s also up to them to request special prison security, if they want it, for the ex-judge. They did not comment Thursday.
On Nov. 12, 2009, Delisle said he found his wife already dead when he walked into the condo they shared in Quebec City.
She lay on a sofa, a .22-calibre pistol at her side and a bullet wound in her head. He called 911, telling the operator that his wife had committed suicide.
Delisle’s wife, Marie-Nicole Rainville, was paralyzed on her right side by a stroke two years earlier and had just undergone therapy for a hip fracture that summer.
The accused wept while listening to testimony at his trial about his wife’s physical challenges, including the loss of the ability to speak foreign languages, play bridge and do puzzles because of her brain damage.
One Quebec legal observer now says he expects an appeal because, at this point, Delisle has nothing left to lose.
He says the verdict was predictable, however, for two reasons: First, Delisle never testified in his own defence and juries in murder cases often react badly to that. Also, the forensic evidence was devastating, says criminal-law expert Robert LaHaye.
“(The verdict) doesn’t surprise me,” LaHaye said in an interview.
Police originally appeared to accept Delisle’s explanation for his wife’s demise and the death was officially listed as a suicide. But further investigation led to first-degree murder charges against the retired Quebec Court of Appeal justice.
The Crown argued during Delisle’s month-long trial that he killed his 71-year-old spouse because he wanted to avoid a costly divorce and wanted to move in with his former secretary, with whom he had been having an affair.
Johanne Plamondon, the former secretary, testified she was ready to move in with Delisle a few days before he was arrested for Rainville’s murder in 2010.
Plamondon, 57, had started working for Delisle as a legal secretary in 1983 when he was named to Quebec Superior Court and followed him when he was appointed to the Quebec Court of Appeal in 1992.
While she and the judge were friends at first, Plamondon testified their feelings evolved in the months before Rainville’s stroke in April 2007.
Another key area of contention was a black smudge on Rainville’s left hand from gunshot residue – in a bizarre spot, outside the palm.
The Crown said that happened as she tried to defend herself from the fatal bullet. The defence insisted it came from her awkward grip on the gun as she took her life.
Rainville’s health had been deteriorating and, in the summer of 2009, she fractured her hip. She was in the hospital until two weeks before her death.
Rainville’s sister, Pauline, said Marie-Nicole had expressed suicidal thoughts to her in correspondence in the months after her stroke.
Pauline Rainville also said her sister feared being a burden on her family after her broken hip because of her limited mobility.
She had actually wanted to go into a nursing home instead of returning to her condo.
Pauline Rainville also said she didn’t approve of the care provided by Delisle, and said she didn’t think she was ready to be discharged from the hospital after her hip therapy because she was weak and thin.
Pauline Rainville said she had limited contact with her sister because she didn’t like being around Delisle, whom she found aloof.
Marie-Josee Tremblay, who cared for Rainville in the hospital, said she found her combative and sometimes sad and tired but never depressed.
With files by Nelson Wyatt