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Derek Saretzky hung out with toddler he's accused of murdering and her mother a year before killings

WARNING: Story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers. The mother of a slain toddler testified she had a five-month friendship with Derek Saretzky when Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette was an infant, and that sometimes the baby was there when she spent time with the man accused of choking and dismembering her daughter.

WARNING: Story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers

Cheyenne Dunbar testified at the triple-murder trial of the man accused of murdering her daughter Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, 2, and two others in the Crowsnest Pass area of southern Alberta. She told jurors she and the accused were friends for five months and that her daughter spent time with him as well. (CBC/Facebook)

The mother of a slain toddler testified she had a five-month friendship with Derek Saretzky when Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette was an infant, and that sometimes the baby was there when she spent time with the man accused of choking and dismembering her daughter.

Cheyenne Dunbar told jurors she and Saretzky were never romantically involved, despite his claim to an RCMP investigator that the pair dated.

The trial is close to a conclusion, with the Crown saying it will likely rest its case Friday morning after lawyers take Thursday to deal with a legal issue.

Dunbar said that during their friendship, she and Saretzky would hang out a couple of times a week — sometimes at Saretzky's mother's home, sometimes at Blanchette's.

Saretzky, 24, who lived in Blairmore, Alta., has pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of killing Hanne Meketech, 69, and then five days later killing Terry Blanchette, 27, and his daughter, Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, 2.

Though he has smiled and smirked through much of the trial, Saretzky barely looked at Dunbar as she testified.

Dunbar said she had an off-and-on relationship with Blanchette and lived with him twice, once before Hailey was born and again when their daughter was four months old. 

In 2015, the parents shared custody for two weeks at a time, but at the time of the killings, Cheyenne was moving to Edmonton, so Blanchette had the girl for several extra weeks.

Dunbar said her friendship with Saretzky lasted from when Hailey was three months old until she was eight months old. 

A jury is now deliberating the fate of Derek Saretzky, top right, who is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the 2015 deaths of Hanne Meketech, and Terry and Hailey Blanchette. (Facebook/RCMP)

When the lead investigator on the Blanchette homicide, Cpl. Joany Paradis, arrived in Blairmore on Sept. 14, police believed Hailey might still be alive.

"Our primary objective was to find Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette," said Paradis, who was the Crown's final witness.

After Saretzky was arrested on Sept. 15, Paradis briefed the RCMP interview specialist ahead of the interrogation. Police still needed to know if the child was dead or alive.

In videotaped interviews with police, Saretzky said he had feelings for Dunbar. He said he killed Blanchette because he believed he was abusive toward Dunbar and had given him a dirty look at one point. He also said he had dated Dunbar for several months.

Saretzky confessed to breaking into Blanchette's Blairmore home on Sept. 14, 2015, and killing him with a crowbar and a knife before kidnapping Hailey from her crib and taking her to a rural area. 

In one of the videos recorded during after that interview, Saretzky took investigators to a campsite about 20 minutes away from the Blanchette home that belongs to his relatives. He re-enacted how he killed Hailey, dismembered her body and performed acts of cannibalism on the toddler before burning her remains.

Police recovered hundreds of bone and tooth fragments from the ashes of the fire pit. The girl's DNA was also discovered on a toy and in a metal pot nearby. 

When Saretzky was asked during the interrogation if he killed Meketech for practice ahead of the father and daughter slayings, he said: "Yeah."

On a notepad found in Saretzky's apartment, a handwritten list included the names; "Chy ... Terry ... the hideous baby ... Hanneh."

From left to right, RCMP officers Cpl. Brian Fitzpatrick, Cpl. Joany Paradis and Sgt. Stephen Browne walk into the Lethbridge courthouse on the Crown's final day of evidence. Fitzpatrick and Paradis led the Meketech and Blanchette/Dunbar-Blanchette investigations (respectively) while Browne was the the team commander on the Meketech case. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

The lead investigator on the Hanne Meketech investigation told jurors he was "very confused" at the beginning of the investigation.

"I didn't know why, it didn't make any sense to me why this woman was murdered," said Cpl. Brian Fitzpatrick.

He said he began to learn Meketech had a "fiery personality."

"Hanne wasn't going down without a fight … I think she came out swinging," he said. 

Hailey's DNA on Saretzky's boots 

Wednesday's first witness was RCMP DNA expert Janice Lyons, who examined blood samples from several different locations relevant to the killings. 

Lyons said blood samples taken from:

  • Blanchette's apartment matched the victim's own DNA.
  • The white van the Crown says was used in the kidnapping of Hailey matched Blanchette's DNA.
  • Items at the campsite where Saretzky confessed to killing the child matched Hailey's DNA.
  • A pair of cowboy boots seized from Saretzky's home matched Hailey's DNA.
  • Saretzky's apartment — aside from the boots — matched the accused's DNA.

Jurors have been dismissed until Friday as lawyers and Court of Queen's Bench Justice William Tilleman deal with a legal issue, though the prosecutor Photini Papadatou said she is close to closing the Crown's case. It is still not known if defence lawyer Patrick Edgerton will call any witnesses. 

  • Get the latest developments in the trial from our reporter in the courtroom in our blog below. On our mobile app? You can also see it here.