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Murder trial underway for Mississauga woman accused of killing ex-husband, his mother

Melissa Merritt is escorted into provincial court in Halifax on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. The Crown alleged Monday that Merritt was a 'willing accomplice' in the double murders of her ex-husband and his mother, and was seeking sole custody of her two children at the time of their deaths. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Melissa Merritt is escorted into provincial court in Halifax on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. The Crown alleged Monday that Merritt was a 'willing accomplice' in the double murders of her ex-husband and his mother, and was seeking sole custody of her two children at the time of their deaths. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A Brampton jury heard more evidence Wednesday in the trial of Melissa Merritt, who faces first-degree murder charges in the deaths of her ex-husband and his mother, following a bitter custody battle over their two children.

Earlier this week, Crown attorney Brian McGuire told a jury at the Superior Court of Justice in Brampton, that Merritt was a "willing accomplice" in the deaths of her ex-husband, Caleb Harrison, and his mother, Bridget.

Harrison was found dead in August 2013 in a home on Pitch Pine Crescent in Mississauga, Ont. — the same home where his 63-year-old mother was also found dead in 2010.

Jurors heard Monday that the custody battle between Merritt and Harrison escalated when he went to jail after killing a man while drinking and driving, McGuire said.

At the time, Harrison's parents were granted custody of his two children to be shared with Merritt while he served his sentence.

Exterior of Brampton courthouse.
Exterior of Brampton courthouse.

The trial for Melissa Merritt, who faces two first-degree murder charges for the deaths of her ex-husband and his mother, began Monday at the Superior Court of Justice in Brampton. (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC)

But the prosecutor told the court the custody dispute took a dramatic turn in April 2009.

That year, Merritt was previously convicted of the parental abduction of the children. Harrison's mother, Bridget, told police Merritt and her common-law partner Christopher Fattore had taken the children.

Bridget was murdered by Fattore in her home in 2010, court heard Monday.

Harrison was found strangled in his bed in 2013, the same day his shared custody agreement with Merritt was set to end, McGuire said. Investigators determined at the time that both the mother and son had been asphyxiated. The deaths — which were three years apart and took place at the same home — were not initially deemed suspicious but police later determined both were homicides.

In January 2014, the RCMP tracked down Merritt and Fattore in Nova Scotia, where they had moved shortly after the 2013 death, and charged the pair. Fattore was convicted of the crimes and is currently serving a life sentence for both killings, the jury heard.

McGuire laid out the prosecution's case Monday alleging that Merritt was a "willing accomplice" in the double murders and not merely "an accessory after the fact" in Fattore's killings, because she was seeking sole custody of her two children at the time.

Merritt has pleaded not guilty to both counts of first-degree murder.

Letters paint picture of tense custody battle

On Wednesday, the jury was shown nine letters sent by Merritt addressed to the Harrison family from April to December 2008. The letters were found in the Harrisons' home and turned over to police after Bridget's death.

In one of the letters, dated Oct. 25, 2008, Merritt said she had concern for her children's safety.

"I will be keeping the children with me today," the letter reads. "There is something wrong here, no child should behave that way before seeing their father."

In another letter, dated Nov. 28, 2008 and addressed to Caleb, Bridget and Bill Harrison, Merritt wrote that she will be keeping the children with her.

"I have a responsibility as a mother to protect my children and after the episode that occurred on Friday night in my driveway in front of me, it is hard not to believe nothing happens to my children behind closed doors of your home."

In December, Merritt wrote several more letters saying the children did not wish to visit their father's house as frequently.

"I have spoken to the children and it is very clear that among many issues including them being hit, sworn at and not treated well," Merritt wrote on Dec. 4.

"A major issue is that they have to come to your house too much, they feel that the time spent with you is more than they are comfortable with and I feel in the best interest of [them] that the access time is reduced."

The Crown said at the start of the trial that it will provide the jury with wiretap recordings to prove Merritt and Fattore were both responsible for the murders.

The trial is set to continue Thursday.