WARNING: This story contains violent, graphic content. Discretion is advised.
The families of the victims of Derek Saretzky spoke tearfully in a Lethbridge courtroom Thursday, telling him for the first time how losing their loved ones has forever changed their lives.
It took jurors just three hours to convict Saretzky of three counts of first-degree murder in the September 2015 deaths of Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, her father Terry Blanchette, 27, and 69-year-old Hanne Meketech in Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass.
They also found him guilty of causing an indignity to Hailey’s body.
Watch below: Derek Saretzky has been found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, her father Terry Blanchette and Hanne Meketech. Nancy Hixt reports.
Seven victim impact statements were read at the sentencing hearing.
Only two loved ones were present in court to read their statements in person.
Hailey’s maternal grandmother, Terry Lynn Dunbar, cried as she recalled the day she found out Hailey had disappeared. She learned the news by opening her Facebook account on the morning of Sept. 14, 2015.
“From that moment on, my life changed,” she said. “Our family has been to hell. The horror she must have endured haunts my every waking moment.”
Watch below: ‘Verdict is for the victims’ – RCMP Insp. Derek Williams thanks investigators, Crown for support during Saretzky trial
The words of Hailey’s mother, Cheyenne Dunbar, were read by Crown prosecutor Photini Papadatou.
“I cry for my baby every day,” the statement read. “She was my world…she was my reason for living.”
She wrote of the difficulty she has just getting out of bed and described messages of hate she has received, including people harassing and blaming her for the tragedy.
“I take a daily regime of medication to help me get through the day. I’ve woken up at nights thinking I can hear her…only to realize it’s just a dream.”
Watch below: Defence lawyer Patrick Edgerton speaks after guilty verdicts in Derek Saretzky trial
Terry Blanchette’s sister Amanda Blanchette also had her statement read by the Crown.
“Our lives became a real horror show,” Amanda said. “I carry sadness so deep in my heart that it sometimes physically hurts.”
Amanda wrote that her brother showed them the true meaning of love.
“He stole an innocent baby screaming from her crib…he held the devil’s hand and now he must reap what he sows.”
Watch below from June 21: The mother of Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette took the stand Tuesday at the trial for Derek Saretzky. Nancy Hixt reports.
Terry’s mother, Faith Durban Eiseman, also had her pain-filled words read by the prosecutor. She described her son as hardworking, productive and a great father.
“Two beautiful human beings have been stolen from us,” she said, adding every moment she spent with her granddaughter Hailey was precious.
Durban Eiseman said Saretzky’s actions disgust her, but she also spoke of his family.
“My heart goes out to the Saretzky family. They are blameless.”
Hanne Meketech’s friend, Carrie Morency, presented her statement in person.
She became the sole executor of Meketech’s will, when Hanne’s other friend—Derek’s grandmother—had to step down.
Morency sobbed as she lovingly described her friend and her love for animals.
“Animals taught Hanne about love,” Morency said.
Watch below from April 2016: Neighbour of homicide victim Hanne Meketech shares unsettling memories
Court heard her estate was given to the Ronald McDonald house.
“She told me that as a child she spent a lot of time in the hospital…alone.”
Saretzky, 24, receives an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.
What is now being argued is the possibility of consecutive sentencing.
Watch below: RCMP Insp. Derek Williams speaks about dedication of investigators
Jurors unanimously recommended he be sentenced to consecutive parole ineligibilities for the three murder convictions.
Saretzky faces up to 75 years before he’s eligible for parole for the murders, plus any extra time for causing the indignity to Hailey’s body.
That is what the prosecution is seeking, plus five years concurrent for causing an indignity to Hailey’s body.
Saretzky admitted to kidnapping the child, taking her to a remote campsite, then choking, dismembering and cannibalizing her before burning her body.
Three video-taped confessions were played for the court in which he admitting to killing all three victims.
In making sentencing arguments, Crown prosecutor Michael Fox said “the killing of Hanne Meketech was in fact practice.”
Fox said Saretzy’s talk of the devil and God making him commit the crimes was Saretzky setting the groundwork for a potential insanity defence.
The Crown has submitted killing Terry and Hailey was his plan all along, right down to the location where he planned to destroy the child’s body.
“He knew he was at an isolated spot. He knew who owned the property. He could take his time–and he did,” Fox said.
Watch below: Derek Saretzky video confession played at triple-murder trial
The Crown submitted each of the victims was vulnerable: Hanne lived alone, Terry was in bed, and Hailey just a child.
“The brutal nature of each of these murders has to be considered as aggravating,” Fox told Queen’s Bench Justice Tilleman.
The prosecution raised other similar cases of multiple murder in which a motive was found, such as the Douglas Garland case, citing “a petty grudge” against Alvin Liknes.
But Fox said the Saretzky case is different.
“There is no possible explanation for this,” Fox said, suggesting Saretzky wanted to improve his own health by cannibalizing, calling the victims in this case “mere pawns of Saretzky’s thrill-seeking.”
The Crown also pointed out Saretzky has smiled through much of the trial and said that is evidence of a lack of remorse.
Defence has said Saretzky will not be making a statement to the court.
Thursday afternoon, defence lawyer Patrick Edgerton told Justice Tilleman he had a number of issues with the Crown’s submissions.
“I cannot appropriately respond today,” Edgerton said.
He asked for permission to make written submissions in mid-July and have the Crown respond the following week, which Tilleman agreed to.
The sentencing hearing will resume in court Aug. 9.