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18th of January 2018

International



MANDEL: ‘He was taking a dive to protect the woman he loved,’ says lawyer of man who ‘falsely confessed’ to two murders

He may have confessed to killing two of the Harrisons but he didn’t mean it.

Christopher Fattore, 40, stands accused of murdering the entire Harrison family — father, mother and son — in three separate murders over the span of four years. He even confessed to two of them — telling police upon his arrest in 2014 that he’d planned and executed the slayings of Bridget Harrison in 2010 and that of her son Caleb three years later. 

Now his lawyer is arguing it was a “false confession” that Fattore hoped would spring his co-accused and send her home to care for their children. “He was taking a dive to protect the woman he loved,” Jennifer Myers told the jury in her closing address.

If that was his plan, it didn’t work. His common-law wife Melissa Merritt, 37, sits beside him in the prisoner’s box, charged with two of the same three murders: those of her former mother-in-law Bridget Harrison and Merrit’s ex-husband Caleb Harrison. Only Fattore is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Bill Harrison.

Fattore and Merritt have pleaded not guilty in the marathon murder trial that began in late September. Fattore now admits unintentionally killing Caleb during a struggle but his plea to manslaughter at the start was rejected by the Crown. 

Christopher Fattore is escorted at provincial court in Halifax on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Fattore, 36, and his common-law spouse, Melissa Merritt, 33, face first-degree murder charges in the death of her ex-husband and his mother in a Toronto-area home.

“We all have sympathy of the Harrison family,” Myers said. “They have had — and continue to have — many tragedies. Three of their members died, one of them killed by Christopher Fattore.”

But she insisted her client had nothing to do with the other two deaths – which she maintained were not murders at all. 

It’s a complicated story about a bitter custody battle that began after Caleb and Merritt split following his assaulting her in 2005. They shared custody of their two children but when Caleb was jailed in 2009 for killing a cabbie while drunk driving, Merritt had to split the kids with his parents. According to the Crown’s theory, she didn’t like it.

Melissa Merritt is escorted at provincial court in Halifax on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Merritt, 33, and her common-law spouse Christopher Fattore, 36, face first-degree murder charges in the death of her ex-husband and his mother in a Toronto-area home.

By then, she was living with Fattore and they would go on to have four kids together.

The Harrisons’ pretty executive home on Pitch Pine Cres. in Mississauga became the scene of three suspicious deaths. Bill Harrison’s body was found by his wife in their locked powder room on April 16, 2009. Although he was 65 and in good health, his death was blamed on cardiac arrhythmia.

Melissa Merritt, 33, and her common-law husband, Christopher Fattore, 36, were arrested near Bridgewater, N.S., on Tuesday. They are jointly charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Police say Merritt is the ex-wife of Caleb Harrison. youtube/ts/QMI AgencyNot For Resale – Handout

The Crown alleges Bill was killed after he confronted Fattore on learning he and Merritt planned to violate the custody order and take the kids out of the province. But there was no sign of a struggle and conflicting findings about the cause of death, argued Fattore’s lawyer. “There was and is no evidence that William Harrison was the victim of a homicide.”

Almost exactly a year after her husband’s unexpected death, Bridget, 63, was discovered by her grandson lying dead at the bottom of the stairs. She’d won temporary sole custody of him and his sister after Merritt was found in Nova Scotia and charged with parental abduction.

Again, the Crown alleges Fattore killed Bridget and he admitted as much in his confession to police when arrested four years later. Myers maintained the confession was coerced and Bridget’s “neck injuries” were due to an innocent fall, not murder. In fact, the police investigation wasn’t reopened until after her son’s body was discovered in his bed three years later.

Melissa Merritt is escorted at provincial court in Halifax on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Merritt, 33, and her common-law spouse Christopher Fattore, 36, face first-degree murder charges in the death of her ex-husband and his mother in a Toronto-area home.

Fattore does admit killing the third Harrison but despite his confession, his lawyer insisted it was an accident — not premeditated murder: Fattore used his stepson’s key to let himself in with the plan to beat Caleb badly enough to send him to hospital and gain more time with the kids.

“It wasn’t a good plan and it didn’t go as planned,” she said. “He didn’t mean to kill Caleb Harrison.”

Fattore only confessed to murdering him and his mother due to 15 hours of interrogation by a “psychologically manipulative” investigator, Myers argued. She reminded the jury of Fattore’s testimony that he wanted his wife to be freed from police custody so she could return to their kids and he’d said whatever he could to make that happen.

Fattore was such a “family man,” his lawyer insisted. And just a coincidence that another family has been completely decimated.

The jury isn’t expected to begin deliberating until January.

mmandel@postmedia.com

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