An unrepentant Saskatchewan farmer who has steadfastly maintained that he killed his severely disabled daughter out of compassion will be released from prison in the latest development of a case that continues to polarize opinions nearly 15 years after it began.
On Wednesday the National Parole Board's appeal division overturned an earlier ruling and ordered Robert Latimer's immediate release on day parole. He has served seven years of his life sentence for second-degree murder.
The move angered advocates for the disabled who think Latimer is being given special treatment because of his situation, but it thrilled family, friends and at least one of the jurors who convicted him unaware that he would spend this long behind bars.
"I'm just so excited," his wife, Laura Latimer, told The Canadian Press from the family's farm in Wilkie, Sask. "It just means the world, really."
In its ruling, the appeal division said the earlier board decision couldn't be supported in law and it would be "unfair" to keep Latimer in prison. It said the original parole board panel erred in deciding that Latimer lacked insight in understanding the factors that contributed to his decision to end his daughter's life.
"The board's determinations in this regard are unreasonable and unsupported," the ruling stated. "Your responses at the hearing reveal that you did, in fact, demonstrate insight and were able to explain why you decided to end the life of your daughter 13 years after caring for her."
But Latimer's release to a halfway house was not unconditional. He's not to have responsibility for or make any decisions for people who are severely disabled.
Latimer's daughter Tracy was born with cerebral palsy and, at 12, had the mental capacity of a three-month-old. Doctors had told the family that she would need more surgery to help her cope with her condition and the Latimers were under the impression that she would only be able to take Tylenol to help with the excruciating pain.
One morning in October 1993, while the rest of the family was at church, Latimer loaded Tracy into the cab of his pickup, ran a hose from the tailpipe through the window and watched as her life slowly ebbed away.
In 1994, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder, but that decision was overturned on appeal. Latimer was retried and convicted again in 1997.
The jury at the second trial recommended Latimer only serve only one year in prison, and Justice Ted Noble gave Latimer a constitutional exemption from the mandatory life sentence and imposed a sentence of two years. But that decision was overturned on appeal.
In January 2001, Latimer began serving his life sentence. He was eligible for day parole after serving seven years and full parole after 10.
Looking back on the case now, Kelly Keyko, who sat on the jury in 1997, said he wouldn't have voted to convict had he known Latimer would spend this much time in jail.
"As a member of society I feel I did my job as far as deciding whether he's guilty or not guilty - he's guilty," Keyko said in an interview from his home in North Battleford on Wednesday night. "I'm not happy he served how much time he served and now that he's paroled, I am happy about the outcome."
Latimer has never said he was wrong or admitted any remorse. He has spent his years behind bars writing letters to the Supreme Court and federal politicians complaining about what he sees as the flawed reasoning that maintained his conviction. He has managed to continue running the family farm remotely, over the phone, with the help of workers.
"By now, most Canadian realize that Tracy's death was not an act of malice, but an escape from a life no sane person would want to live," Latimer wrote in a recent letter to The Canadian Press. "Canadian courts insist her death was murder."
His sister Pat Latimer said she was surprised by the parole decision.
"He should never have been in jail, but this is better than anything we've heard so far," she said in a telephone interview from her New Brunswick home.
"You always hope for these things, but we've never had any decision in his favour before. So you hope for it but you just don't expect it."
Latimer's lawyer, Jason Gratl, said his client will be released into day parole at a halfway house in Ottawa, where he has a sister and job prospects.
During his first parole hearing, Latimer told the board he wanted to spend his day parole in Ottawa to pursue advocacy work with respect to his life sentence. He said that, given the notoriety of the case, it would be best for him not to return to the family farm.
Dave Clouston, deputy warden at William Head prison near Victoria, where Latimer has been held for the past five years, said it could be weeks before he actually leaves. He said Latimer declined a request for an interview and showed little emotion at news of his release.
"All I can say is he's pleased with the decision that was made," Clouston said.
Gratl described the reversal as a rare occurrence and said his client was "delighted."
The reaction was just the opposite from the Craig Langston, the president of the Cerebral Palsy Association of B.C.
"I think it sends a scary message that parents can decide that taking a life of their child is the right thing to do," he said. "The preservation of life should be the first concern."
Marie White, chairwoman of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, wondered if any other killer would be granted parole in the absence of remorse.
"Due process was followed and no one can argue with due process," White said from her home in St. John's, N.L. "I question if this issue had come up before the appeals board and it involved someone who didn't have a disability, whether the same decision would have been rendered."
-With files from Jennifer Graham in Regina and Dirk Meissner in Victoria.