Elizabeth Wettlaufer sentenced to life in prison
Published Monday, June 26, 2017 4:08AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 26, 2017 6:21PM EDT
Former Ontario nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer has been sentenced to life in prison without eligibility for parole for 25 years, in connection with the murder of eight seniors in her care.
- Scroll down or click here for a recap of the day's events.
The judge handed down Wettlaufer's sentence after hearing 19 victim impact statements, on the first day of her sentencing hearing in Woodstock, Ont. Many of the victims' families expressed overwhelming guilt, which Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas addressed in his ruling.
"You simply cannot blame yourselves," Thomas told them. "She was far from the angel of mercy, more the shadow of death who passed over them," he said of Wettlaufer's treatment of her victims.
The sentence comes after the Crown and the defence jointly recommend that all sentences run concurrently. They suggested a life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years on all eight counts of first-degree murder, a sentence of 10 years for the attempted murders and seven years for both aggravated assaults.
The judge agreed with their recommendation.
Wettlaufer, 50, briefly addressed the court to apologize for her actions.
"I am truly sorry for the people I injured and murdered," she said. "Sorry is much too small a word."
Wettlaufer killed James Silcox, 84, Maurice Granat, 84, Gladys Millard, 87, Helen Matheson, 95, Mary Zurawinski, 96, Helen Young, 90, Maureen Pickering, 79, and Arpad Horvath, 75.
She attempted to murder Wayne Hedges, 57, Michael Priddle, 63, Sandra Towler, 77, and Beverly Bertram, 68.
She also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault against Clotilde Adriano, 87, and Albina Demedeiros, 90.
Arpad Horvath Jr., whose father was among the victims, said the apology was "a waste of time, paper and air."
"Hopefully her conscience becomes her prison, and hopefully she rots in it," he told reporters after the sentence was handed down.
His sister, Susan Horvath, said she decided not to read her victim impact statement in court, because she was too overcome with anger. "I had to control myself," she said.
Susan Horvath was among a number of those calling for official legislation in response to the case, which came to light after Wettlaufer confessed to the killings. Horvath said more must be done to protect the elderly and vulnerable who are under long-term care.
"This is not the first time. This is the first time it came forward," she said.
Feelings of hatred, rage, guilt and betrayal ran high at Wettlaufer's sentencing hearing, where the court heard from family and friends of the victims.
Wettlaufer had pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault in connection with a series of incidents that occurred at nursing homes in Woodstock and London, Ont. Wettlaufer has said she believed she was acting as an instrument of God by injecting her elderly victims with insulin.
The offences were committed between 2007 and 2016, at three long-term care facilities and a private home in southern Ontario.
The court heard a number of victim impact statements on Monday, including some read by family members of the deceased.
CTV News legal analyst Edward Prutschi called the sentencing a "fantastically fast conclusion" to a quick justice process for Wettlaufer.
"The wheels of justice moved pretty quickly," Prutschi told CTV News Channel. He said the process was accelerated by a number of factors, such as the lack of a trial and the joint sentencing recommendation by the Crown and the defence.
He added that relatives of the victims appear to have been well-informed about the nature of Wettlaufer's punishment, which makes her ineligible for parole for 25 years. "There seems to be a pretty broad consensus that they're comfortable with the sentence," he said. "None of them seem to be expecting her to get out of custody, and they're absolutely right on that front."
But Prutschi says this is likely not the end of the fallout from Wettlaufer's actions. "There's no doubt there's civil litigation coming," he said.
Prutschi said future lawsuits will likely focus on Wettlaufer's employers and any possible liability they may have for her actions.
The victim impact statements appeared to lay the groundwork for future action, with many citing lost wages, medical bills and other financial hardships as part of the fallout of Wettlaufer's murders.
Prutschi said he's unsure whether there will be a formal government inquiry into the case, but future civil suits will likely serve a similar function.
Prutschi said the most "bone-chilling" element of the case is that many people will eventually end up in a long-term care facility at the end of their lives, and cases like this cast doubt on how much staff at those facilities can be trusted.
Beverly Bertram, 68
Beverly Bertram, whom Wettlaufer attempted to murder, told the court through a statement that she is still too afraid to go to sleep at night. She said she's "really changed" since the attack.
"I have never been so ill without knowing what was wrong," she said. "I was worried she would get out and come to finish the job."
She added: "I'm afraid of my own shadow."
Arpad Horvath, 75
Speaking through tears, Arpad Horvath Jr. told the court that his father's death is "a nightmare that I cannot wake up from."
He said his father was his teacher, hero and best friend, and that the two shared a bond of mutual respect.
"I miss you, buddy," Horvath said.
James Silcox, 84
The first victim impact statements came from the relatives of James Silcox, who was among the seven individuals Wettlaufer killed at Caressant Care in Woodstock.
James Silcox's family told the court he was a man of faith, and that he had been waiting for God to choose the time of his passing. "Instead, he passed at the time of Ms. Wettlaufer's choosing and the family is heartbroken by this," said a prepared statement released by several members of the Silcox family. Adam Silcox, James' grandson, read the statement in court.
"Our trust has been irreparably damaged and we are now uncertain as to the level of care that we will receive when our time comes, due to the actions of Ms. Wettlaufer," the statement said.
Other members of the Silcox family said they felt guilty for not protecting James. They explained that one sibling had been against sending him to Caressant Care, because it seemed like a "substandard" facility.
"This murder, this break in trust, has turned siblings against each other," Silcox's daughter, Jane, said in court.
The Silcoxes added that the death of James Silcox may have hastened the death of his wife, as she passed three weeks after she was informed of his murder.
Maurice Granat, 84
Maurice Granat's friend, Laura Jackson, called him one of the "best people I knew" in her statement to the court. She said she became depressed and lost her job after his death, and that his absence has left a "void" in her life.
"I will miss him always," she said.
Jackson told reporters after the sentencing that she plans to advocate for more legislation to protect the elderly under long-term care.
"I want to make change so this never happens again," she said. Jackson added that Wettlaufer has "irrevocably destroyed" her family's trust, "because we'll question everything when it comes to long-term care."
Gladys Millard, 87
Heather Smith described her aunt, Gladys Millard, as well-known and much-appreciated seamstress in the Woodstock community. Smith said her multiple sclerosis started acting up upon learning of her aunt's death, and that it has continued to cause her problems throughout the court case.
She added that she was terrified when her mother was hospitalized recently, because she was afraid of the nurses.
Gladys Millard's daughter, Sandy, told the court that she has had a lot of trouble dealing with the fallout of her mother's death. She said she believes she is depressed, and she is trying to "fight my way back to sanity."
Sandy Millard said it broke her heart to learn that her mother physically fought with Wettlaufer at the time of her death. "It kills me to know that she cried when she was attacked," Sandy Millard said. "She fought the predator and cried out for over an hour and no one answered her."
Wayne Hedges, 57
Wayne Hedges' brother said he's still trying to let go of the anger he's been dealing with since Wayne's death. He said he's taking solace in the knowledge that Wettlaufer will have to answer to a "higher power."
Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to attempted murder. However, she was not charged in connection with his actual death.
Helen Matheson, 95
Helen Matheson's longtime friend, Edith Thomas, said the woman was like a "substitute mother" to her, even after she started exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's disease. Thomas said she met Matheson in 1969, and that the two maintained their friendship right up until Matheson's death.
"I admired Helen, as she was a very strong lady," Thomas said.
Thomas said she had a "medical episode" upon learning of the circumstances of her friend's death. "Her passing was hard enough, but to find out what actually took place will be on my heart and mind forever," she told the court.
Matheson's son, Jon, said he often looks back on her last days and wonders if he missed anything that might have revealed Wettlaufer's ill intentions. He said he's dealt with depression, high blood pressure and a range of health issues that have put him in the hospital six times since his mother's death.
Jon Matheson's wife read his statement in court.
"Peace of mind is not something I enjoy any longer," the court heard.
Helen Young, 90
Sharon Young shared warm memories of her aunt Helen, in a statement read by the Crown in court. Sharon described how her aunt, who was from Scotland, fell in love with a man from Calgary and ultimately moved to Canada. She said Helen Young did not have children, but she loved her dogs and her husband, who died in 1988.
Sharon also shared memories of her personal encounters with Wettlaufer, whom she said was "not very empathetic." She said it "haunts" her to know that she hugged and thanked Wettlaufer after Helen Young's death, not knowing that she was thanking the woman who killed her aunt.
Mary Zurawinski, 96
In a statement read by granddaughter Deborah Rivers, Mary Zurawinski's relatives said they are filled with "hatred and rage" over her death.
They said Mary Zurawinski was "adamant" that she would live to see her 100th birthday, and that Wettlaufer has robbed her of that opportunity.
They said they have been struggling with depression, anxiety and employment difficulties as a result of her murder.
Rivers told reporters after the sentencing that forgiveness will be "the hardest part of it all." However, she also tried to highlight the positive elements of her grandmother's life.
"She always said there's so many positive things in life," Rivers said.
Maureen Pickering, 79
Maureen Pickering's friends, Deanna and Donald Tuck, told the court in a statement that they feel "terrible guilt" over the situation. The two had been caring for her, and sent her to Caressant Care when her Alzheimer's became too difficult for them to manage. "We put our friend in the place where her life was taken," they said. "We should not be living our final days filled with guilt for doing what we thought was the best thing for our friend."
With files from The Canadian Press
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