Derek Saretzky found guilty of 1st-degree murder in deaths of toddler, father, senior

A jury in Lethbridge, Alta., has convicted Derek Saretzky of first-degree murder in the deaths of Terry Blanchette, his daughter Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, and Hanne Meketech. WARNING: Story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers.

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

Derek Saretzky is seen at right in an image from a police video presented at his triple-murder trial. At left are Terry Blanchette, his daughter, Hailey-Dunbar Blanchette, and Hanne Meketech. All three were killed in Alberta's Crowsnest Pass area in 2015. (Facebook and court exhibit images)

A jury in Lethbridge, Alta., has found Derek Saretzky, 24, guilty of three counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of a toddler, her father and a senior citizen.

He was also found guilty of performing an indignity to a body, related to the toddler. 

Terry Blanchette, 27, his daughter Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, 2, and Hanne Meketech, 69, were all killed in 2015. 

The jury took three hours to reach its decision, heading into deliberations at 12:51 MT on Wednesday afternoon.

As the verdict was read out, one of Meketech's friends sobbed.

Saretzky told police that he chose to kill his former neighbour because he didn't think anyone would miss the senior. 

Five days after Saretzky killed Meketech, Blanchette's body was found in the bathroom of his Blairmore home. His daughter was missing.

Saretzky confessed to bludgeoning Blanchette with a crowbar and then slitting his throat before stealing the sleeping toddler from her crib upstairs and taking her to a campsite belonging to his relatives.

There, he told police, he killed the young girl, dismembered her body and performed acts of cannibalism before burning the remains. 

After another round of deliberations, the jury came back and recommended Saretzky serve three consecutive periods of parole ineligibility, meaning he would not be able to apply for parole for 75 years. 

  • 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.

Speaking after the verdict and the parole recommendations, defence lawyer Patrick Edgerton said he would not comment on the verdict or address the possibility of an appeal.

He said the trial had been tough on all involved, particularly the families and the community, but also those in the courtroom. 

"As defence lawyers, this is what we sign up for, everyone is entitled to a fair trial," he said. 

When asked to comment on the jury's recommendation that his client serve consecutive periods of parole ineligibility, he said they were "entitled to make their decision."

"As you saw from the juror who was dismissed, they want closure and hopefully that will bring them some," said Edgerton.

Juror lashes out

The trial took a toll on those who had to listen to the grisly details day after day. On Wednesday, an emotional juror who was one of two people dismissed from the panel ahead of deliberations in Derek Saretzky's triple-murder trial admonished the judge for dismissing them.

Before delivering his final instructions to the jury, Court of Queen's Bench Justice William Tillemen had to pare the panel down to 12 members from its original 14. By law, two had to be randomly selected to leave.

"You have us come against our will and then show us the door," one of the dismissed jurors told the judge on her way out of the courtroom. "It's not right to treat people this way."

The juror was upset about being forced to sit through graphic evidence and said that without participating in the outcome she wouldn't be able to get closure.

No wiggle room in law

The law only allows for 12 jurors to deliberate. Fourteen sat through the evidence in order to protect against a mistrial in the event several jurors had to be excused for various reasons such as illness or a death in the family.

Jurors had asked the judge in a letter read on Monday if he would consider letting all 14 stay together as a group and deliberate to reach a verdict for "closure."

But the court does not have any "wiggle room" in the law and only 12 can head to the jury room for deliberations, said prosecutor Photini Papadatou. The judge and defence lawyer Edgerton agreed, but the parties decided not to address the question until after Tillemen had delivered his final instructions on Wednesday.

Tilleman told jurors they had three options: guilty of first-degree murder, guilty of second-degree murder or not guilty.

The panel was also told by the judge that Saretzky's mental state was not to be considered when assessing criminal responsibility.

The victims

During the trial, jurors were shown a video where Saretzky confessed to police that he broke into Meketech's home around midnight on Sept. 9, 2015, and fatally attacked her, first with a baseball bat and then a knife. 

His attack on Blanchette five days later was similar, with Saretzky using a crowbar to bludgeon the young father before slitting his throat and fleeing with the toddler. 

Derek Saretzky is pictured at the scene where he told police he killed and dismembered Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette in this still from a police video. (Court exhibit )

In a police video, Saretzky re-enacted the killing of the girl and the ensuing indignities he committed to her body.

Saretzky told police he had feelings for Cheyenne Dunbar, Hailey's mother and Blanchette's ex-girlfriend, and said he wasn't aware she was no longer living with her daughter.

In the firepit ashes, police recovered hundreds of bone and tooth fragments belonging to a child. Hailey's blood was also found on a toy and in a metal pot nearby and on a pair of boots seized from Saretzky's apartment. 

In his closing arguments on Monday, Edgerton asked jurors to focus their deliberations on the Meketech homicide. There were flaws, he said, in both the evidence and confession.

For instance, Edgerton said the officer who interviewed Saretzky was "pushing him to give answers," with the accused often just agreeing with the investigator rather than offering details. 

Edgerton also said that although his client's confession to the Blanchette homicides were full of details, there were few when he spoke of Meketech, and Saretzky even got some details wrong.

The prosecution team of Photini Papadatou and Michael Fox presented about three weeks of evidence while Edgerton presented none.

That evidence was gathered by RCMP investigators — at the peak of the two investigations there were 100 officers working the southern Alberta cases.

Those officers worked "tirelessly," according to RCMP Insp. Derek Williams.

"The verdict is obviously for the victims here … their families, and the communities in the Crowsnest Pass area," he said.