Crossed-out names of victims found in Derek Saretzky's home, triple-murder trial hears
WARNING: Story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers
A notebook containing crossed-out names of people Derek Saretzky is accused of killing was seized from his home along with books on serial killers and human anatomy, a jury in Lethbridge, Alta., heard Wednesday on the first day of his triple-murder trial.
Saretzky, 24, of the southwestern Alberta community of Blairmore, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two-year-old Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, her father, Terry Blanchette, 27, and Hanne Meketech, 69. He is also charged with committing an indignity to the body of the toddler.
All three were found dead in the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, which includes the neighbouring communities of Blairmore and Coleman, in September 2015.
The trial is expected to last three to four weeks, hear from dozens of witnesses and include nearly 40 exhibits, some of them quite gruesome, Crown prosecutor Photini Papadatou told jurors.
She said they will hear recorded statements in which Saretzky confesses to all three killings.
"In each of those confessions, he provided details to police that only the killer would know," Papadatou said.
- Follow the latest in the trial from our reporters in the courtroom here.
Defence lawyer Patrick Edgerton said the confessions do not necessarily mean Saretzky is guilty.
"Over the next few weeks, we'll see how the evidence comes out," he told reporters outside the courthouse.
"There still are reliability issues when it comes to confessions and, as the evidence comes out, I think it'll be more clear what's happened."
Juror excused over graphic details
Before the jury was sworn in, one juror told the court he worried he would have physical difficulty if the trial contained graphic evidence.
"That's going to be an issue," the Crown prosecutor said.
The juror was excused by Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice William Tilleman, who is overseeing the trial.
One alternate juror was also excused, leaving a 14-person jury — composed of seven men and seven women — to hear evidence.
If no jurors drop out during the trial, two more will be excused at the end, so that deliberations are carried out by a jury of 12.
Amber Alert and national attention
When Blanchette was found dead and his daughter missing from their home in Blairmore, a community of about 2,000 people, on Sept. 14, 2015, the case drew national attention.
An Amber Alert was issued for the girl.
She was found dead the next day in a rural area near Blairmore.
Saretzky was charged with two counts of first-degree murder two days later.
Seven months later, police charged him with first-degree murder in the death of Hanne Meketech, who lived in the neighbouring community of Coleman.
Meketech was found dead in her home on Sept. 9, 2015 — five days before Blanchette's body was discovered.
By "pure coincidence," Papadatou said the officer in charge of the Meketech investigation went to the scene of the Blanchette killing and noticed striking similarities between the two slayings, which led police to later link the cases.
Notebook, bone fragments and blood
Jurors were shown a notebook police seized from Saretzky's apartment. One page had the words "Medicine Fresh" written at the top and several lines below it, crossed out.
The crossed out lines read: "hanneh sleepers for the dogs" and "chy terry" and "the hideous baby."
Court heard "Chy" was a common nickname for Hailey's mom, Cheyenne Dunbar.
Police also found what appeared to be blood in several locations in the apartment, along with a book on medical anatomy, the novel Hannibal, which centres around a serial killer, and another book titled The Killer Book of Serial Killers.
Investigators also found dozens of bone fragments along with a burned knife and hatchet in a fire pit at a nearby campsite that is partially owned by the accused's aunt.
Analysis determined the bones came from a child between the ages of two and four, according to an agreed statement of facts. No DNA was recoverable from the burned bones, some of which had cut marks.
Blood was found on a metal pot and a child's toy near the fire pit.
DNA analysis confirmed the blood was Hailey's.
Blood on white van
Blood was also found on a white van that belonged to Prestige Cleaners, a company owned by Saretzky's family.
The van had been moved by someone who didn't have authorization to do so around the time that Hailey went missing, according to the agreed statement of facts.
Saretzky's apartment is located next to Prestige Cleaners on 20th Avenue in Blairmore, about 230 kilometres south of Calgary.
None of Saretzky's family members are under suspicion, the Crown stressed.
"The accused's entire family came forward and provided information to the police," Papadatou told the jury.
"They are good and decent people and you will hear from some of them."
The last witness to testify today was an EMT who responded to Meketech's home and found her body in a large pool of blood.
The trial resumes on Thursday, when a blood-spatter expert is among the witnesses set to testify.