GRAPHIC WARNING: This story contains details that may disturb some readers.
It took a jury just three hours Wednesday to convict a young southern Alberta man of the horrific murders of a 69-year-old woman, a young father and his two-year-old daughter, along with a recommendation he be kept in prison for at least the next 75 years.
An emotionless Derek Saretzky, 24, avoided eye contact with the jury but bowed his head while the verdict of guilty on three counts of first-degree murder was read, plus one county of committing an indignity to a body. At the back of the courtroom, friends of his elderly victim wept and hugged each other.
Hanne Meketech had been his first victim in September 2015, followed five days later by Terry Blanchette, 27, and his little girl, Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette.
Both adults were beaten and had their throats slit; the little girl was plucked from her crib and spirited away from the bloody crime scene to an unspeakable fate at a nearby campground.
No members of the Dunbar or Blanchette families were present for the verdict. Eight victim impact statements have been filed with the court, and Crown prosecutor Photini Papadatou expected two or three of them would be read in court Thursday. A life sentence is automatic, but the judge will hear arguments before making a final decision on parole eligibility.
The only emotional outburst of the day came when Justice William Tilleman had to randomly dismiss two of 14 jurors to bring the final deliberations down to the legally required number of 12.
A female juror yelled as she left the courtroom, saying it wasn't right to be forced to sit through the trial and then be excluded from taking part in its conclusion.
Outside court, defence lawyer Patrick Edgerton had little to say, except when asked if he was concerned about the jury's recommendation for a lengthy incarceration.
"They're entitled to make their decision," he said. "As you saw with the juror who was dismissed, they want closure, and hopefully that will bring them some."
RCMP Insp. Derek Williams, the man in charge of the serious crime unit for southern Alberta, said the case has been difficult on all involved.
"It's traumatic and it's a tragedy for, obviously, the victims and the families, the communities and investigators as a whole," Williams said. "But (officers) were dedicated to finish the investigation and bring this matter to the Crown for prosecution."
The killings occurred in the small close-knit region known as the Crowsnest Pass in southwestern Alberta, where both Saretzky and his victims lived.
The court heard videotaped confessions from Saretzky who told police he killed Meketech — a friend of his grandparents — on the spur of the moment and because he didn't think anybody cared about her.
Blanchette's body was found by his father and authorities launched a massive search for Hailey.
But it was all for naught.
Saretzky told police he took the toddler from the house to a campsite, which was partially owned by his family.
Once there, he choked her to death with a shoelace. He said "a little prayer" over the girl before he drank her blood, ate part of her heart and burned her body in a firepit.
It wasn't long before police identified Saretzky as a suspect. A van matching those used by his family's cleaning company was spotted at the Blanchette crime scene.
Saretzky was brought in for questioning and, before long, confessed.
One juror sobbed as a video was shown of Saretzky walking police through his crimes at the campsite where he killed the girl.
Police found only bones in the firepit and a yellow child's toy belonging to Hailey on the ground nearby.
Similarities to the death of Blanchette linked Saretzky to Meketech's murder. Saretzky confessed to that crime six months later.
No real motive emerged during the trial. Saretzky was found mentally fit to stand trial, but told police the devil guided his actions.
"Just kind of taunting me to do all kinds of stupid stuff," he said.
"You think I'd have a chance if I pled insanity?" he later asked.
Saretzky knew all three victims. Hailey's mother testified that she, Blanchette and Saretzky even hung out together for a brief period of time.
After the verdict, a couple of social media groups dedicated to the case saw expressions of relief and satisfaction.
"Justice served," said Ron Goes on Let's Bring Hailey Home Safe, a Facebook group that has been active since the fall of 2015.
"I pray the family can start the healing process," said Shyloh Schmidt. "Nothing will give them enough justice."