London Free Press

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Mother broke law to protect triplets, jury told

By JANE SIMS, Free Press Justice Reporter
London Free Press

STRATFORD -- The fate of a mother accused of abducting her triplets a year ago rests on whether she believed they were about to be harmed.

That was the crux of closing arguments yesterday at the trial of Carline Vandenelsen, 39, charged with three counts of abduction in contravention of a custody order in the disappearance of eight-year-old Peter, Gray and Olivia Merkley on Oct. 14, 2000, during a scheduled visit with their mother.

They were found in Mexico three months later after their father and custodial parent, Craig Merkley, 45, launched an international search.

Defence lawyer Clay Powell and assistant Crown attorney Henry Van Drunen agreed Vandenelsen's actions were in contravention of the law.

But Powell noted "that's far from being the end" because the law does allow parents to take their children to protect them from danger or imminent harm.

Vandenelsen believed the children would be psychologically or emotionally harmed if Justice Robert Abbey decided to cut off her access as part of a long, bitter custody battle with Merkley, Powell told the jury.

Seven months earlier, Abbey gave Merkley full custody and ordered Vandenelsen to pay support. But the judge adjourned the access decision, leaving open the possibility of terminating her access.

"That word 'terminated' would run a chill up your back," Powell said.

"The judge said, 'Come back and at the end of the day, I'll decide whether you'll see your kids again,' " he said. "How would you feel?"

He said Merkley was not "a bad man," but abduction "was exactly what he was trying to do to her in that court case."

"The judge could have said, 'You can't see your mommy any more,' " Powell said. "I think that would be harmful to a child, wouldn't you?"

Powell reminded the jury they must decide based on evidence and not if they believe acquittal would open a door for others to breach court orders.

But Van Drunen urged the jury "to take care that you do not cause justice to stumble."

Vandenelsen, he said, was motivated by selfishness when she took the triplets. "She had no right -- no legal right, no moral right, no justification to take the children," he said.

The children were not in harm's way, he said. "They were living with a caring and loving and capable father who was meeting all their needs."

"She believed (she) would suffer emotional harm, that's what happened," he added.

Justice James Donnelly is expected to charge the jury tomorrow before they start deliberations.

Copyright (c) 2001 The London Free Press,