Latimer: No regrets about killing disabled daughter
Published Monday, March 7, 2011 11:42AM CST
Saskatchewan farmer Robert Latimer didn't spend much time thinking about the personal consequences he would face for killing his severely disabled daughter in 1993 -- her daily pain and suffering, he says, were the only things on his mind.
But, Latimer told CTV.ca in a sit-down interview in Toronto on Monday, he certainly didn't expect that his decision to end Tracy's life would trigger a storm that would envelop his own life for years to come.
"It wasn't anything to consider, it wasn't a priority. (But)I didn't think things would get so wild, I didn't realize. I thought they would be more realistic than they were," Latimer said, referring to prosecutors.
He added: "She'd had enough so that was the priority."
Tracy Latimer had been born with cerebral palsy that left her a quadripelegic with the brain capacity of a baby.
Latimer has been on full parole since November.
Though there are still major restrictions on his freedom -- he can't get a passport and needs permission to travel more than a short distance from his Victoria, B.C. apartment -- Latimer said he has "moral freedom" that comes from the knowledge he did the right thing.
"You're always free in your mind. You definitely would have had bigger problems if you'd carried on with the operations and things like that, so I'm free to know that what I did was right," he said.
Latimer, a Saskatchewan farmer who had been working his family operation near Saskatoon, ended Tracy's life on Oct. 24, 1993.
Tracy, who was 12 at the time, had severe cerebral palsy and had faced years of painful surgeries that had resulted in crippling daily pain. She had metal bars on both sides of her spine and was wracked by seizures that got worse as she grew, Latimer said.
Doctors had just told the family that Tracy would need surgery to repair a dislocated hip, but it was likely they would have to remove part of her femur in the process.
They also wanted to insert a feeding tube into Tracy's stomach -- an option that had been proposed earlier.
"That was something we rejected in 1987 and so when that came up again, as well as what we felt was mutilation, we just decided there was no way we were going to go through with that," Latimer said.
And so on the morning of Oct. 24, 1993, Latimer killed his daughter by means of suffocation.
While his wife Laura and their other children were at church, he placed Tracy in the cab of his truck in the garage, and ran a hose from the exhaust into the cab.
Latimer then sat in the back of the truck and watched as she died from suffocation.
While Latimer initially told police Tracy had simply fallen asleep, it soon came out that he had caused her death, triggering a media frenzy across the country and years of debate about the morality of euthanasia.
"I didn't really think it would be that big a deal," he said. "I thought it would be more like it was probably designed to be, not a public circus but a rational evaluation of the events."
Latimer was initially convicted in 1994 by a jury on second-degree murder charges, a decision that was upheld on appeal in 1995.
In 1996, the Supreme Court of Canada heard Latimer's case, then ordered a new trial due to jury interference by prosecutors.
In 1997 the second trial began, and a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder but recommended Latimer be eligible for parole after one year's time.
Judge Ted Noble gave Latimer a "constitutional exemption" from the mandatory minimum sentence, and ordered a sentence of less than two years -- one of which he could serve in the community.
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal rejected that controversial decision in 1998 and upheld the mandatory sentence of at least 10 years -- a decision that was also later upheld by the Supreme Court in 2001.
Latimer maintains to this day that the prosecution misrepresented the medical facts at the 2001 hearings, when they claimed that the family had alternative medical options for Tracy, but that Latimer chose not to use them.
If a jury had been involved in 2001, and had known the bleak options the family faced, Latimer said he would have had a "fighting chance."
Latimer admits that Tracy, who had the mental capacity of a newborn, wasn't able to express her feelings about the quality of her life. Latimer said he based his decision on what he would have wanted for himself, if he were in her place.
"Tracy's life was a pretty horrific event. I don't think anybody in their right mind would volunteer to go through that kind of thing," Latimer said.
The "majority" of Canadians, he believes, would agree with the choice he made if given all the facts.
Looking back over the years, Latimer said there is little he would change about his actions.
His biggest regret, he said, goes back further, to the day his daughter was born in 1980. If he could live that day over again, he would have ensured his wife was taken to a larger hospital with better equipment that could possibly have prevented the oxygen interruption that led to Tracy's cerebral palsy.