Happy Girl: The Latimer Dialogues

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Happy Girl: The Latimer Dialogues

The arrest, trial and imprisonment of Robert Latimer for ending the life of his ailing 12-year-old daughter Tracy, in 1993, has been a case of enduring concern to the Canadian public. Did our justice system fail to find justice in this difficult case? Here we present a condensed rendering of the actual words spoken during the various proceedings, so readers may decide for themselves – was justice served? Because of the length of the complete document, it will be presented in 5 installments, Part 1 here, and the subsequent 4 parts in upcoming issues of HP.

The arrest, trial and imprisonment of Robert Latimer for ending the life of his ailing 12-year-old daughter Tracy, in 1993, has been a case of enduring concern to the Canadian public. Did our justice system fail to find justice in this difficult case? Here we present a condensed rendering of the actual words spoken during the various proceedings, so readers may decide for themselves – was justice served? Because of the length of the complete document, it will be presented in 5 installments, Part 1 here, and the subsequent 4 parts in upcoming issues of HP.

Introductory Comments

All words spoken, except those of the Narrator, are as they were actually spoken, taken from court documents, conversations and interviews, except when a minor change was made for clarity – such as substitution of a name for a pronoun. In no case is there any significant change to the words actually spoken. While much of the trial transcript is recorded here, cuts have been made to avoid repetition, to ensure relevance to the central story and to make the essential points in the document more accessible.

To aid in gaining a feeling for the various proceedings the dialogues here are presented as a play script, with stage directions included.

Suggested staging notes: projections at the back of the stage could be used to create a sense of place, for example scenes of Saskatchewan prairies and grain elevators, the farm in Wilkie, the North Battleford Courthouse, William Head prison, and others. Projections could also show titles of sections of the dialogue, as they appear in the script, and perhaps dates to give a sense of time.

List of Voices (in order of appearance):
  • Narrator and staging suggestions – written by Gary Bauslaugh
  • Protesters (at least three) – representative of many Latimer protests
  • Scruffy man – actual words spoken at a talk on the Latimer case
  • Older woman – actual words of a letter in a Victoria newspaper
  • Randy Kirkham – prosecutor in first trial
  • RCMP Constable
  • Robert Latimer
  • Laura Latimer – wife of Robert Latimer, mother of Tracy Latimer
  • Sgt. Conlon – RCMP, Wilkie detachment
  • Sgt. Lyons – RCMP, Wilkie detachment
  • Justice Noble – presiding judge in second trial
  • Eric Neufeld – prosecutor in second trial
  • Mark Brayford – defence counsel for Robert Latimer
  • Court Clerk
  • Mr. Seebin: trial witness
  • Ms. Clark: trial witness
  • Mr. Pike: trial witness
  • Dr. Dzus – orthopedic surgeon for Tracy Latimer
  • Dr. Kemp – Latimer family doctor
  • Jury Foreperson
  • Parole Board (2 women, 1 man)
  • Man and woman – representing the BC Community Living Association

 

PART 1 – THE ARREST
A light comes on the Narrator, typing on his computer to one side of the stage. The light remains on him throughout most of the play. He stands up and talks directly to the audience.
NARRATOR:
As a journalist who followed the case closely, I am going to tell you the story of the short but eventful life of Tracy Latimer and of the legal events that followed her death on October 25, 1993. Except for my comments, offered by way of explanation, the words presented here are selected actual words spoken by observers and participants in this case.

The Latimer family, Robert and Laura Latimer and their four children, including the eldest, Tracy, lived just outside the small farming community of Wilkie, Saskatchewan. I met Robert Latimer in 2005 while he was still serving a murder sentence at the William Head prison near Victoria, and I subsequently visited him several other times there. Visitors were not allowed to bring in any sort of home-cooked food, so I usually brought him some fries and fast-food cheeseburgers.

By the time I met him, Robert Latimer had already spent seven years in legal proceedings and five years in prison for the murder of his daughter Tracy. He was halfway through a mandatory 10-year sentence.

The narrator is interrupted as the stage is lit and at least three protestors emerge from the wings carrying signs with messages denouncing Latimer. The messages read something like, “NO MERCY FOR LATIMER,” “BABY KILLER” and “HE MURDERED HIS DAUGHTER.” The protestors are chanting “murderer.” One of them, a scruffy-looking man, stops to speak as the others quiet down.

SCRUFFY MAN:
I was in prison with Latimer and we had a plan to kill him. It’s too bad we didn’t.
NARRATOR:
Please, that’s enough. We are trying to put on a play here!

The three protestors reluctantly leave the stage, muttering.

NARRATOR (recovering his composure):
Well, feelings did run very high in this case.

An older woman, using a walker, comes into a spotlight.

OLDER WOMAN:
I am a handicapped person living in Victoria. If Robert Latimer is released from prison, I will be afraid to walk the streets of my own hometown. (Leaves the stage.)
NARRATOR:
Let us go back to Robert Latimer’s first trial (he had two) and hear what the prosecutor at that trial, Randy Kirkham, had to say about him.

Kirkham speaks as he walks into spotlight still on at centre stage.

KIRKHAM (addressing the audience as he would the jury):
The accused is foul, callous, cold, calculating and not motivated by anything other than making his own life easier. . . Murdering Tracy, this murder we are talking about, should be no different, here in this case, than it would be if he had murdered their new baby Lee, who was two to three months old at the time Tracy’s life was taken. Why should it be any different? We would not tolerate this conduct or have, I suggest, a moment’s hesitation were it baby Lee or Lindsay or Brian Latimer as the victim. Your decision in this case should be no different just because Tracy had cerebral palsy. It is not open season on the disabled.

Stage darkens as Kirkham leaves.

NARRATOR:
We go back to the morning of Sunday October 24, 1993. (Backdrop projection shows the date). The next day Tracy was scheduled to have an operation that would sever her right femur bone and remove the end that connected to her hip joint. Tracy was almost thirteen years old and suffered from severe cerebral palsy, having incurred brain damage during her birth, due to oxygen deprivation. Tracy herself had no idea what was to happen to her the next day: she had the mental capacity of a very young infant.

Laura Latimer prepared to take the three younger children to church that Sunday morning. Robert said he would stay home to do some chores, and to keep an eye on Tracy who, roused to be fed her breakfast at 10:30 am, would soon be put back to bed for her morning nap.

And then, around noon on that same day, Tracy died.

Scene changes to a meeting in the farmhouse kitchen between Robert Latimer and the Constable.

SGT. LYONS:
Do you wish to call a lawyer now?

ROBERT LATIMER:
Not really, no.

CONSTABLE:
So, Bob, did anything unusual happen this morning?
ROBERT:
No, nothing. I put her back to bed around 12:30 because she was in some pain. She went to sleep. About 1:30 Laura and the kids came back from church and Laura made lunch, and then she went to get Tracy up. All of a sudden Laura started hollering, “call the hospital, call the RCMP, something’s wrong with Tracy!”
CONSTABLE:
Would you mind going over her medical condition with me – were there any recent problems?
ROBERT:
There was nothing much new – she had been in pain most every day for two or three years – with the hip thing. She’d been in care at the North Battleford Children’s Group home for July, August, and September because Laura was pregnant and it would be too much for her to take care of the kids and Tracy. Tracy had pain whenever she moved. I was worried because she had lost weight in the group home – she was down to about 40 pounds.
CONSTABLE:
You know, Bob, we will have to take her in for an autopsy.
ROBERT (visibly disturbed, hesitates):
But we want her cremated.

Entrapment using love and compassion.

CONSTABLE:

That’s fine, but the autopsy still has to occur. Then once that is done Tracy will be handed over to the funeral home and whatever arrangements they made with the funeral people would be, you know, their arrangements. But now we can help you with notifications of those who you want to let know what happened. And we will stay with you until we can get some support people here.
ROBERT (subdued, pauses):
Can I get you a coffee?
CONSTABLE:
Sure, thank you.

Robert goes to the coffee maker and starts to remove the old grounds.

CONSTABLE:
Do you know where Tracy’s prescription drugs are – the drugs for her seizures?
ROBERT:
Yeah, in this cupboard

Robert reaches in and takes out a bottle. The constable examines it – the bottle is clearly almost full. He puts it in his pocket.Robert is suddenly visibly nervous and drops the used coffee grounds on the floor. He gets down on his hands and knees frantically trying to scoop them up. He soon gives up and goes back to making the new coffee.

CONSTABLE (watching intently, pauses):
Bob, how are the crops doing this year?

Fades out. Scene changes to farmhouse with two plainclothes RCMP officers knocking on the door. Robert Latimer, wearing a bathrobe, answers. The projection on the backdrop shows the date changing to one week later, November 1, 1993.

CONLON:
Good morning, I am Sgt. Conlon and this is Sgt. Lyons, and we are assisting the Wilkie detachment of the RCMP looking into the death of your daughter Tracy. We have several questions we would like to ask you. You mind coming back to North Battleford with us?
ROBERT (calmly):
Okay, just give me a minute to change.

Officers go with him, then all return with Latimer who is wearing jeans, boots and a parka. In the meantime, Laura Latimer, holding an infant, has appeared on the front porch.

LAURA (to Robert):
Where are you going?
ROBERT:
I’m going back to North Battleford with them. (Points at Lyons and Conlon.)
LAURA:
Why are you going back there?
ROBERT:
Ask them.
CONLON:
In my opinion, that is the best place to conduct this interview.
LAURA:
Will you be coming back at some point in time?
CONLON:
We may be coming back in the afternoon.

Fades out. Then light comes on with Latimer sitting at a table in the police station across from Lyons and Conlon.

LYONS:
I realize that this is a very trying time for you and your family. But what I have to say has very serious consequences – so please listen very closely. (Latimer nods in agreement.) You are being detained for investigation into the death of your daughter Tracy. I must inform you that you have the right to retain and instruct counsel, without delay. You may call any lawyer you wish. You can also obtain legal aid duty counsel, without any charge. Do you understand?
ROBERT:
Yes.
LYONS:
Do you wish to call a lawyer now?
ROBERT:
Not really, no.
LYONS:
You need not say anything. You have nothing to hope from any promise of favour, and nothing to fear from any threat, whether or not you say anything. Anything you do say may be used as evidence. Do you understand?
ROBERT (appearing perfectly calm):
Yes.
LYONS:
Do you have any questions?
ROBERT:
No.
LYONS:
Let me ask you again – do you want to call a lawyer?
ROBERT:
No.
LYONS:
Mr. Latimer, we are not here to judge you. We deal with situations like this frequently, where people find themselves in difficulty, and things that wouldn’t ordinarily happen, do. I understand the situation you are in and we empathize with you. We have no choice but to do the job we have to, but at the same time will assist you in getting through this situation as best we can. We have reviewed the evidence we have and have spoken to several people. Everyone said the same thing, that you are a very caring person, a good person. At the same time, we know this was not a natural death. (Pauses.)

Your daughter was in a great deal of pain. Bob, after considering all that is known, I have no doubt that you caused your daughter’s death.

There is a long pause; Robert looks distressed.

This is not something you wanted – you loved your daughter very much.

Latimer nods in agreement.

This is something you felt you had to do out of love for your daughter, isn’t it Bob? (No reply.) I can imagine this is very difficult for you and I feel bad. I know you were a loving, caring father. You only did what you felt was best for her out of love for your daughter. Isn’t that right Bob? (Pause.) That’s what happened, isn’t it Bob, isn’t that right?

ROBERT (long pause):
My priority was to put her out of her pain.
LYONS:
That’s what you thought was right, wasn’t it?
ROBERT (tears now coming down his face):
She was always in pain, always suffering.
LYONS:
Bob, I am going to have a written statement from you. And I will simply repeat that we are investigating the death of your daughter and that criminal charges will be laid as a result. You still have right to legal counsel and you are not compelled to say anything, but what you do say is admissible in court. Any questions about any of that? (Latimer shakes his head.) Tell me exactly what took place.
ROBERT:
She’s been in pain for years – ever since she was born she’s had trouble. She had an operation a year ago to straighten her back, put rods in it. Prior to that her hip was dislocated intermittently. They operated on her back first because the hip seemed secondary – didn’t sound that serious. But then in recent months it’s been almost full time dislocated. Each time you moved her there was pain. So the operation for the hip was planned for around this time. It was more complicated than we expected, so we just couldn’t see another operation. She’d be confined to a cast for I don’t know what the time was, so I felt the best thing, for her, was that she be put out of pain.
LYONS:
Bob, I want to be sure of this before going further: you could be charged for murder. Do you understand that? (Latimer nods yes.) Okay then, tell me how did you go about it?
ROBERT:
Laura went to church before eleven. So then I went outside and there was a two-inch hose in the old tin shed by the barn. I threw it in the truck, an ’82 half-ton, and went to the shop. Then I hooked the hose up to the truck with some pipes and I threw a bunch of rags in the back of the truck and two big boxes and a hack saw, threw the hose and pipes in the back, drove out near a shed and threw all that stuff out. Then I went and got her and took her to the shed. I propped her up with rags by the steering wheel. I covered her over except for her face. I cut the hose with the hack saw, hooked it to the exhaust, put it in the back window, and put the hose through the back window. Then I let it run.
LYONS:
How long did you let it run?
ROBERT:
About half an hour. It was about 11:30 when it started.
LYONS:
Did you stay there?
ROBERT:
Yeah, uh huh.
LYONS:
Then what?
ROBERT:
After about 25 to twelve or so she made three or four coughing noises. She never started to cry. It was about seven or eight minutes when that happened, and that’s about it.
LYONS:
Then what?
ROBERT:
I let it run ‘till noon. I was timing all this stuff. There was a tractor tire in the back. I was sitting on it watching through the back window.
LYONS:
What time did you move her?
ROBERT:
At noon I shut it off and put her back in her bed.
LYONS:
That’s how she was found?
ROBERT:
Yeah. Laura went to feed her and she was gone.
LYONS:
What truck was it?
ROBERT:
The 1982 GMC half ton, blue.
LYONS:
The shed you referred to is where?
ROBERT:
Out behind the trees.
LYONS:
That’s where you had parked the truck when this was happening?
ROBERT:
Yeah.
LYONS:
Where did you get the hose?
ROBERT:
In the shed by the barn, the suction hose for the water tank.
LYONS:
Black plastic?
ROBERT:
About 8 feet of green flexible hose.
LYONS:
Where is that hose now?
ROBERT:
I cut it up yesterday and burned it. I had left it all there for over a week.
LYONS:
Where did you burn it?
ROBERT:
In the barrel in front of the shop.
LYONS:
How did you secure the hose to the exhaust?
ROBERT:
There was a piece of pipe about 8 inches long. I put another piece, some coupler, and another piece of pipe.
LYONS:
Are those couplings still around?
ROBERT:
Yeah. In the shop
LYONS:
What about the rags?
ROBERT:
Still in the shed.
LYONS:
Which shed?
ROBERT:
The one out behind, same one.
LYONS:
Where is the metal fitting?
ROBERT:
It’s all there under the snow.
LYONS:
Would you be willing later to show us where that is?
ROBERT:
Yeah.
LYONS:
For how long, Bob, had you thought about doing this?
ROBERT:
Well, pretty much decided after that doctor appointment on October 12.
LYONS:
When did you discuss this with Laura?
ROBERT:
We talked about it that night – the 12th.
LYONS:
What were her feelings about it?
ROBERT:
No different than mine, she just said she wished she could call a Jack Kevorkian. She never participated in any planning, just thoughts in general.
LYONS:
When she went out to church did she know what you were going to do?
ROBERT:
No.
LYONS:
Did you tell her what happened?
ROBERT:
No.
LYONS:
Are you sure, Bob?
ROBERT:
Yes.
LYONS:
When did you know that that’s what you were going to do?
ROBERT:
I don’t know what day it was, I was combining, thought I’d give her some Valium. I had thought about shooting her in the head. (Sobs)
Lyons (pausing):
When, Bob, did you decide to put her in the truck on the Sunday.
ROBERT:
I just knew it was coming.
LYONS:
Would it be a few days before?
ROBERT:
Yeah, probably five days before, I’m not sure of the date.
LYONS:
Is there anything else, Bob, that you wish to say?
ROBERT:
I don’t know that there is much more to say.
CONLON:
You’re okay? (Latimer nods) This was on 24 October. Is that correct?
ROBERT:
Uh huh.
CONLON:
Did you give her any pills or medication?
ROBERT:
No.
LYONS:
Did she vomit or salivate, anything like that? (Latimer shakes his head.) She just went to sleep?
ROBERT:
She jerked three or four times; she’s had worse seizures. I thought if she cried, I’d pull her out. She didn’t.
LYONS:
You didn’t want to see her suffer? (Latimer shakes his head.) And what happened was exactly what you hoped would happen?
ROBERT:
Uh huh.
CONLON:
I have a question Bob. I can try to imagine how hard this is, but I’d like to continue asking you some questions. Is this okay?
ROBERT:
Yeah, fine.
CONLON:
Tracy Lynn had cerebral palsy?
ROBERT:
Yes.
CONLON:
I understand she had this from birth?
ROBERT:
Yeah, when she was younger it wasn’t that big of a deal. Her muscles would tense up and put her hip out of joint. She had seizures from the day she was born.
CONLON:
Was Tracy ever able to tell you or Laura how she felt?
ROBERT:
She never could talk; she was severely affected by brain damage. When she was very young, she could bring her hands to her mouth, but that was until four or five months. She progressively got worse.
CONLON:
This next question will be difficult. Can you tell me now, can you tell us how you feel now that Tracy is dead?
ROBERT:
It’s better – as soon as Laura saw her she was happy for her. Tracy was loose. She was always stiff and in pain, she was always awake and in pain. She had only been home a short while, she spent the summer in a group home here in Battleford.
CONLON:
Bob, I’d like to know if you ever considered institutionalizing your daughter?
ROBERT:
She had lost weight in the home, she was under 40 pounds when she got home. I couldn’t see that. I’m much happier for her now. (Tears in his eyes)
CONLON:
Cry if you want to. It’s okay.
ROBERT:
We didn’t even think she would get help from an operation. She was getting sores; some of them would heal up.
CONLON:
Bob, to look after your daughter, and meet all your requirements, was this expensive for you?
ROBERT:
Not in the least – her drugs were all paid for. The hospital in Wilke was free. I had no trouble with financial commitments.
LYONS:
You’re getting tired, are you, Bob?
ROBERT:
No, it doesn’t matter, I’m okay.
CONLON:
Is there anything you find about Ken Lyons or myself that you find threatening?
ROBERT:
No.
CONLON:
Now that you have told us what happened, how do you feel?
ROBERT:
Oh, it, uh, doesn’t really matter. This is not the hard part.
CONLON:
Bob, I have recorded our conversation, the questions and answers. I will let you read all of this over, should you wish. If you don’t want to do that, I will read all of this back to you, to ensure that there are no points that you want to clarify or change, whatever you wish.
ROBERT:
I don’t really care; you can read it to me.
CONLON:
All right, listen carefully, stop me if you wish.

Lights dim to denote passage of time, then the same scene reopens.

CONLON:
Bob, is there anything then you would like to change, clarify, or add?
ROBERT:
No.
CONLON:
I would like you to sign the bottom of this page and put your initials on the bottom of each of the other pages. (Latimer complies.) Has this statement been given totally voluntarily on your part Mr. Latimer?
ROBERT:
Yes.
CONLON:
We have little choice now but to charge you with murder. We are going to take you to a cell in North Battleford. Is there any clergyman or family friend that you want to meet with, anything like that?
ROBERT:
No.

Fades to dark except for the Narrator.

NARRATOR:
Latimer is put in a cell in North Battleford and then later that same day is taken back to his farm to conduct a videotaped walk-through of what had occurred the day Tracy died.

The scene is now back at the Latimer farm, with Latimer and the same two officers.

CONLON:
Bob, you do not have to go through with this videotaping, but if you do it would be evidence. Do you have any objections?
ROBERT:
No.
LYONS (after a pause):
I appreciate how honest you have been with us. In all sincerity and fairness to you, though, I want to again impress upon you the seriousness of the investigation and that you don’t have to go through any of this.
ROBERT:
I know.
LYONS:
You know that this can be used as evidence?
ROBERT:
Yes.
LYONS:
You still have the right to call a lawyer for advice, at any time and do you want to call them before we do this videotape?
ROBERT (shaking his head):
No, I don’t.

Lights fade out momentarily

LYONS:
Bob, have you given any more thought to calling counsel? It is up to you, but it may be in your best interests to have someone speak on your behalf.
ROBERT:
I know a local lawyer that I have dealt with for land deals. I’ll give it some thought.

Fades out; date projection goes off.

TO BE CONTINUED
  • PART 2 – The Trials Begin – HP223
  • PART 3 – Laura – HP224
  • PART 4 – Summations & Verdict – HP225
  • PART 5 – Parole – HP226