LETHBRIDGE – “There is next to no chance he will ever be free, so the chapter is closed.”
Justice William Tilleman made the statement, after handing Derek Saretzky a parole ineligibility of 75 years for the murders of 69-year old Hanne Meketech, 27-year old Terry Blanchette and his two-year old daughter, Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette. All three were killed in the Crowsnest Pass in September of 2015.
With time already spent in custody, that means Saretzky will be 97 when he can first apply for parole.
Saretzky received an automatic life-sentence when a jury found him guilty on three counts of first-degree murder, leaving parole ineligibility up for consideration. Tilleman also gave Saretzky five years – to run concurrently to the life sentence – for committing an indignity to the body of Hailey.
The decision matches recommendations made by the Crown and the jury, following a trial that ran through the month of June.
In a written submission made to the court by defence counsel, Patrick Edgerton, he suggested that his client be eligible to seek parole after only 25 years.
“According to defence counsel, Mr. Saretzky's age – 22 at the time of the murders, and now 24 – is a relevant consideration, to the extent that sentencing such a young person to a life in prison would amount to a crushing sentence,” stated Tilleman, while reading out his decision. “In these extreme circumstances, there is overwhelming evidence that Mr. Saretzky is a lethal harm to his community.
“Mr. Saretzky had days and days to think about what he had done, and to abandon his plans of murder. He did not,” added Tilleman. “Instead, he used what he learned... to successfully engage in other vicious acts of murder.”
Following the decision, family and friends of both the victims and Saretzky broke into tears, along with several members of the jury who had decided to return. Saretzky meanwhile, showed little emotion as he was escorted back into the holding area and out of the courtroom.
Response from Crown and defence
Outside the courthouse, Crown prosecutors Photini Papadatou and Michael Fox spoke to the media, thanking the jury, court and the RCMP for their role in the case. Papadatou also echoed comments from Tilleman, that the public can now begin the process of moving forward.
Crown prosecutors Photini Papadatou and Michael Fox
When asked how the community can take that step, she paused briefly before giving an answer.
“What options do we have, other then to move forward,” stated Papadatou.
“It has restored my faith in both justice and the community in how they dealt with, possibly, one of the worst cases that this province has ever seen,” she added.
Edgerton also made some time for the media, explaining that given the current state of the law, they weren’t greatly surprised by the decision.
“He's processing it right now,” Edgerton then said of Saretzky’s reaction. “He didn't have a great deal to say about it. He has some reflection to deal with over the next few days.”
Defence lawyer, Patrick Edgerton
Edgerton also addressed questions about a potential appeal of the conviction, as well as there could eventually be a constitutional challenge of the consecutive parole ineligibilities.
“Whether or not a case is appealed depends on the client, it's ultimately his decision,” said Edgerton. “In a case that's long and complex like this one, there's certainly areas that can be looked at to determine if there's any merit to it, but it's all based on Mr. Saretzky's instruction and whether or not he wants to carry on in that manner.
“I think that there likely will be [a constitutional challenge] coming at some point. I can't comment specifically about this case, but eventually I think the constitutionality will be challenged,” he added.
Key evidence (WARNING: Video and text contains graphic details)
A large part of the Crown’s case was based on two videotaped confessions Saretzky made to police, along with a re-enactment he did, in which he took officers to the scene where he killed Hailey, and described how he took her life and cannibalised her.
Saretzky’s father, Larry Saretzky, asked police to talk to his son on Sept. 15, 2015, the day after Terry’s body was found and an Amber Alert was issued for Hailey, who was missing. He testified through tears that when he asked Derek about Hailey, his son responded that “she was in heaven.”
In speaking with officers, Saretzky then told them that Hailey was “floating around,” that God was behind what had happened, and that God had told him Hailey “didn't have a very good life.” It was at that time that Saretzky was taken into custody.
The first confession came about an hour into an interview Saretzky did with Staff Sgt. Mike McCauley that same day, as police continued to hold out hope that they could find Hailey alive.
Clips from Staff Sgt. Mike McCauley's first interview with Derek Saretzky
When asked if the little girl was still alive, Saretzky responded, “She’s not alive,” before breaking down and saying, “The devil made me turn her into ashes.”
He told McCauley that after entering the Blanchette home and killing Terry in his bed, he drove Hailey out to a campsite, where he started to build a fire. When it was big enough, he says he choked her, removed her head and limbs, and turned to cannibalism.
“I ate a little bit of her heart,” he told McCauley. “It made me stronger, for a bit, just a little bit.
“I drained her blood, I drank most of it,” he then continued.
Near the end of the interview, he then asked McCauley, “Think I’d have a chance if I plead insanity?”
From that point, Saretzky took police to the scene where he killed Hailey, and described to them how he did it.
As they left the scene, Saretzky said that Terry had once come after him with a bat, and had been following and stalking him. When McCauley asked if that’s why Saretzky attacked Terry, he replied, “Yeah, I guess.”
The second confession came on Mar. 2, 2016, in relation to Hanne Meketech, who was killed before Terry and Hailey, as her body was discovered by a neighbour on Sept. 9, 2015.
Once again, McCauley conducted the interview, and after making small talk, he asked Saretzky if he wanted to apologize to his grandparents for killing their friend, Hanne, to which he replied, “Yeah.”
“Somehow, I thought it was ok,” stated Saretzky, before going over details that McCauley said only a few police officers and the killer would know. “I kicked the door in and hit her in the head with a bat… I hit her in the head with a bat, stabbed her and left.”
When asked why he targeted Hanne, Saretzky responded, “I didn’t think anybody cared about her.”
Saretzky then said, “Yeah, I guess,” after being asked by McCauley if Hanne had been a practice kill to prepare for the murders of Terry and Hailey.
Following those videos and a significant amount of forensic evidence presented by the Crown, Edgerton elected to call no evidence.
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