‘You destroyed an innocent family at the cost of your own,’ Mississauga couple told
Harrison family speaks out as couple convicted of Caleb Harrison’s murder receives life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years.
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After sitting as observers in courts from Brampton to Kitchener for four years, the family of Bill, Bridget and Caleb Harrison had a chance Monday to speak of the shattering impact their deaths have had on an extended clan of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends.
The victims read their statements from the witness stand, sometimes looking directly at convicted killers Melissa Merritt and Christopher Fattore, who were both found guilty Saturday of first-degree murder in the death of Caleb Harrison, Merritt’s former husband.
Fattore was also found guilty of murdering Caleb’s mother, Bridget Harrison, while Merritt’s charge in the same death resulted in a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict. Fattore was found not guilty of killing Bill Harrison, a charge he faced alone.
“I cannot fathom how people who loved their family, loved their friends, and loved their community so greatly could have been dealt such an injustice,” said Elizabeth Gallant, Caleb’s aunt and Bill’s sister, who attended the Brampton trial dutifully from September to January.
“We have all suffered from recurring, violent nightmares of our loved ones’ last moments, and we will never forget the terror that plagued us for years, not knowing which family member might die under suspicious circumstances next, or when,” she said.
Merritt, 37, and Fattore, 40, sat in the prisoners’ box, staring expressionless across the courtroom.
“I hope that one day you realize that you destroyed an innocent family at the cost of your own,” said Kate Blackwell, Caleb’s cousin, in a statement read by family friend Wanda Jamieson.
Court staff had to bring in extra chairs to accommodate the crowd, which included Merritt’s father, two dozen members of the Harrison clan and nearly all members of the 12-person jury that delivered its verdicts two days earlier.
When Bill Harrison died in 2009, his death was considered a natural one — an “acute cardiac arrhythmia,” a pathologist wrote. Bridget Harrison died one year later under suspicious circumstances, but Peel police closed the investigation five months later.
When Caleb Harrison was killed in 2013, police reopened the earlier death investigations and called them all homicides.
At trial, the Crown alleged the Harrisons were all killed at key moments in an ongoing acrimonious custody dispute over the two children Merritt had with Caleb before their separation in 2005. Merritt also has four children with Fattore, who she met in 2006.
In a statement released after the verdict Saturday, the Harrison family raised concerns about how the deaths of Bridget and Bill were investigated.
“We feel it is important to shed light on any failures or other shortcomings in the investigative process, to ensure that corrective actions are taken by the public institutions involved, such as the police, coroners and forensic services, so that no family has to endure the anguish we have suffered,” the statement said.
Peel police did not respond to questions Monday about whether the force will launch an internal review of how the cases were handled.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Coroner and the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service said that “there have been a number of discussions regarding these cases” between police, coroners and pathologists “at the time of the deaths and subsequently.”
“Now that the trial is coming to an end, we will consider next steps to see if there is a learning opportunity for the investigators and the death investigation service. In order to ensure the integrity of the court process, this cannot take place until all aspects of the criminal proceedings complete,” spokesperson Cheryl Mahyr said in an email.
For the first-degree murder of Caleb, Merritt was given the mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole until after 25 years, which, factoring in the four years served since her arrest, would make her ineligible until 2039.
For killing Bridget and Caleb, Fattore received two life sentences to be served concurrently. Justice Fletcher Dawson noted that he did not have the discretion to make the sentences consecutive because Bridget’s death occurred before the 2011 legislation change that would have given him that option.
Defence lawyers for Fattore and Merritt took issue with references to Bill Harrison in the victim impact statements, in light of the not-guilty verdict on the charge in his death.
Justice Dawson reviewed the 21 statements and made only two small changes before they were read in court, saying some of the defence concerns were “completely frivolous,” and that the statements were appropriate and merely acknowledged Bill’s death as a fact without suggesting it was a murder.
Correction: A quotation in an earlier version of the story has been corrected to say “I hope that one day you realize that you destroyed an innocent family at the cost of your own.” A previous version misstated the quote as “an entire family.” The headline has also been changed.