Stratford Beacon-Herald

Jury begins deliberating fate of Ontario mother accused of abducting triplets

LAURA CZEKAJ, Stratford Beacon-Herald
Canadian Press
Thursday, October 25, 2001

STRATFORD, Ont. (CP) - The fate of an Ontario mother accused of abducting her eight-year-old triplets was placed in the hands of a jury Thursday.

Justice James Donnelly told the eight men and four women that their verdict rests on whether they believed Carline Vandenelsen felt she had no choice but to take the children from their southern Ontario home. "The court must be satisfied that the taking of any young person was necessary to protect the young person from danger of imminent harm," said Donnelly.

If necessity was found, "it excuses an otherwise criminal act," he said.

The judge recalled Vandenelsen's tearful testimony, in which she described frustration over a bitter custody dispute that sent her on a three-month flight through the United States and Mexico.

"She was involved in a high stakes contest. At issue was a precious asset, the formative years and the welfare of her children," Donnelly said.

Vandenelsen, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of necessity to abducting the children on Oct. 14, 2000, listened calmly to the judge's instructions as she sat next to her lawyer, keeping her eyes trained on the jury.

Her ex-husband Craig Merkley sat stiffly next to his new wife with his eyes trained on the judge.

The jury heard Monday that Vandenelsen prepared months in advance to abduct Olivia, Peter and Gray Merkley.

An emotional Vandenelsen told the jury she feared an Oct. 23, 2000 court appearance would cut off all access to the children.

At the time, she was allowed to see them every other Saturday.

After suspecting his ex-wife planned to take the children, Merkley filed a motion requesting she be banned from seeing them.

In evidence read to the jury, Peter Merkley described how he and his brother and sister were smuggled across borders in the trunk of a car.

An international search led police to Acapulco and the children were reunited with their father in January.

During closing arguments, defence lawyer Clay Powell told the jury they must determine if Vandenelsen was acting in what she thought was the best interest of the kids.

"Desperate people do desperate things, and maybe the most desperate of all when your children are on the line," Powell said Tuesday.

Crown attorney Henry Van Drunen said it was Vandenelsen, and not the children, who would be harmed if her access was terminated.

"The harm inflicted far exceeded any harm that was avoided," Van Drunen said.

"The harm was so great, that to compare it to any benefit that was done by taking the children is impossible."

© Copyright 2001 The Canadian Press

Copyright © 2001, The Beacon Herald