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Mother killed herself before jail move


Mother killed herself before jail move

Chelsea woman was on suicide watch at Hull Detention Centre

Gary Dimmock And Chloe Fedio

Ottawa Citizen

Friday, January 13, 2012

In her final days of life, Kathrine Dufresne couldn't recall conversations she had had hours earlier, let alone remember the day police say she killed her seven-year-old daughter, Sophie Fitzpatrick, in her Chelsea home last October.

Dufresne, 53, was arrested after her husband, investment adviser Murray Fitzpatrick, returned home and found his daughter dead and his wife injured after trying to kill herself. (She left a suicide note, according to an officer who responded to the scene.) According to the police theory, Dufresne lay on top of the child and asphyxiated her.

The day before the killing, Dufresne and Sophie had stopped at Cheezy Luigi's pizzeria in Old Chelsea. They were seen laughing together, as they often were. They came in a couple of times per week, and owner Luigi Meliambro said they were happy, pleasant customers.

"It blew me away," Meliambro said in reaction to the first-degree murder charge against Dufresne.

Dufresne was known to some close friends as a person who was either over-the top exuberant or occasionally down in the dumps.

A close circle of friends whom she met at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club say she was intensely focused on the adoption of Sophie before it happened. It was all she would talk about, they said. Sophie was her whole world, and Dufresne is remembered by this group as a doting mother. In recent years, she had become a bit isolated from that circle because of the obligations of motherhood.

Her marriage was also known to be in some difficulty for several years, and the couple had discussed separation just before Sophie's death.

When she took her life on Wednesday, Dufresne was in the Hull Detention Centre, awaiting transfer to a more secure facility.

Her lawyer, Wayne Lora of Gatineau, said Thursday that the biggest problem with her defence was that Dufresne had no "clear memory" of what happened the day her daughter was killed. In fact, he said, Dufresne had trouble this past Monday recalling a conversation they had just a day earlier.

"Maybe life just beat her down, and she cracked. I don't know," Lora said. "She had 53 years of sanity and 10 minutes of insanity. I don't understand it.

"I was saddened, but not surprised," Lora said.

On Monday, based on a 30-day psychiatric assessment, Dufresne had been found fit to stand trial in Gatineau court. Lora, in turn, quickly retained an independent psychiatrist to provide a second opinion on Dufresne's mental state and planned to contest that ruling at her next court appearance on Feb. 28. Lora said his client did not seem "down" after the ruling on Monday.

On Wednesday, though, Dufresne, who was on suicide watch, was found hanging in a shower at the Hull jail.

She was the second person awaiting trial to commit suicide in a Quebec prison this week. On Monday, Paul Laplante, who was accused of murdering his wife, hanged himself with a sheet at the Rivière-des-Prairies detention centre in Montreal.

Dufresne had been under 24-hour surveillance, but on Wednesday morning she was granted 10 minutes of privacy to shower and she used that time to take her own life. The guard outside the stall grew suspicious when Dufresne's shower ran long.

"The guard broke down the door and found her hanging," said Stéphane Lemaire, head of the union representing Quebec prison guards.

Dufresne never regained consciousness and died around 9 p.m. Wednesday. Police are investigating.

She was to be transferred to the Tanguay Detention Centre for women in Montreal on Thursday, Lemaire said. The Hull jail has both men and women in custody.

"When you make up your mind to do yourself in, they would have to chain you to your bed, and even then you could try it. There's no way of foreseeing something like that. People that want to commit suicide are going to commit suicide," Lora said.

However, Lemaire said suicide prevention measures at Quebec prisons were "archaic and prehistoric."

"Even if someone is under constant surveillance, prisons are not always adapted. The detention centre in Hull is overpopulated," Lemaire said. "That's not to say she would not have succeeded in killing herself in Montreal. We need to completely revamp our prisons. We need a major investment. The staff are doing everything they can, but we have old prisons . they're not modern."

In 2011, eight people killed themselves in Quebec prisons. Lemaire said resources and staff were spread too thin.

"In Quebec, we like to say we believe in rehabilitation, that we focus on the human side of things, that we're different, but that's all talk. It's not the reality," Lemaire said.

While suicidal thoughts are common among people in custody, it's "extremely difficult to predict" who will act, said Helen Ward, a Royal Ottawa psychiatrist who was instrumental in establishing the city's mental health court.

"All that detention centres can do is put people on higher levels of suicide watch, where they essentially deprive them of materials they could use to kill themselves and put them in special dress, but that's a balancing act because people could be in that setting and feel so isolated that they get worse," Ward said.

Furthermore, some people hide suicidal thoughts, while others act on impulse, Ward said.


2012 Jan 13