Stratford Beacon-Herald

Not guilty

Vandenelsen weeps as she is cleared of all three charges

By Laura Czekaj
Staff reporter
Stratford Beacon-Herald
Friday, October 26, 2001

Carline Vandenelsen, right, walks to court this morning with her sister Maureen Davidson to await the verdict of the jury in her abduction trial. Ms. Vandenelsen was found not guilty this morning in Superior Court. Photo by Laura Czekaj

A Stratford mother has been acquitted on all charges in connection with the abduction of her eight-year-old triplets a year ago.

Carline Vandenelsen wept as the verdict was announced about 10:30 a.m. today, while her family members clapped and hugged each other.

“Justice was served,” said Ms. Vandenelsen when asked what she thought when she heard the words “not guilty.”

“I think the jury heard that my actions spoke of the love I have for my children.”

Craig Merkley, father of triplets Olivia, Peter and Gray Merkley, was shaking with emotion on hearing the verdict.

“I think they just declared open season on anyone who wants to abduct their children,” he said.

Jury members appeared tired after nearly 10 hours of deliberation in Superior Court Thursday and almost two hours this morning.

Ms. Vandenelsen, 39, pleaded not guilty to three charges of abduction after she took Olivia, Peter and Gray Merkley Oct. 14, 2000, went across the border, through the United States and into Mexico.

Police arrested Ms. Vandenelsen in Acapulco, Mexico, in January. The children were reunited with their father and returned to Canada.

Court reconvened twice during deliberations Thursday — once to allow the jury to question testimony and a second time to clarify the judge’s instructions.

After having their questions answered, the eight men and four women on the jury returned to their deliberations.

While instructing the jury Thursday morning, Judge James Donnelly told them they must come to a verdict based on whether they believe Ms. Vandenelsen took the children to protect them from what she perceived as emotional harm from losing access to their mother.

“The court must be satisfied that the taking of any young person was necessary to protect the young person from danger of imminent harm,” Judge Donnelly said.

During the day-long deliberations, Ms. Vandenelsen, members of her family and her friends, gathered in a small room to work on jigsaw puzzles and talk.

Mr. Merkley and his wife, Jan Searle, sat stiffly awaiting the verdict.

At 8:40 p.m., the judge halted deliberations and sent jury members to a local hotel for the night.

When asked this morning if she will keep pursuing more access to the children, Ms. Vandenelsen said she’s not going to stop until she “puts the children to bed.”

She is also involved in family court proceedings aimed at gaining access to her children.

She has an access hearing coming up in December. Ms. Vandenelsen said she hopes the momentum of this verdict will help with that hearing.

Asked if she was confident she would be acquitted, she said, “I was very hopeful but there was a point last night when I began to question and wonder.”

Asked why she didn’t go to the appeal process to gain access to her children rather than abducting them, she said, “I’ve been in the system now for five years and an appeal was not an option. The circumstances were such that I had to act this way. Would I do it again? No.”

Asked to comment on the verdict, Ms. Vandenelsen’s lawyer, Clay Powell of London said, “It’s justice, isn’t it. It’s what this is all about.”

Copyright © 2001, The Beacon Herald