ATHABASCA – A man who was found sleeping on a couch in the Calling Lake residence he broke into twice in one week was spared more jail time by the person whose home he broke into — his mom.
In Athabasca Provincial Court Dec. 20, Judge Clifton Purvis heard from just one Crown witness in the 30-minute trial of Auriel Cleophus Merkle, 28, who was found guilty on two counts of breaking and entering with intent to commit an indictable offence under Section 348 (1) (A) of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 72 days in jail on each charge, to be served concurrently, along with two years of probation. That one witness was Merkle’s mother, Debra Gambler.
Merkle, who appeared in person in orange coveralls from Edmonton Remand Centre where he had spent the previous 48 days, did take the stand in his own defence, but refused to even give his name upon taking the stand, saying only, “I would like to remain silent.”
Earlier, when Merkle was first brought into court by sheriffs, he caused a scene, swearing at them and the judge, before he was removed from the courtroom.
After hearing the evidence Judge Purvis said he was hesitant in handing down just a 72-day sentence, noting his first inclination was a sentence of two years of incarceration, but he went along with the recommended sentence from Crown prosecutor Patricia Hankinson, who said, after speaking with Gambler, she wanted to take her wishes into account, and asked for time served with enhanced credit on the 48 days Merkle had already spent behind bars
“After speaking with his mother, she advised me that she very much does not want to see the accused spend any more time in custody,” said Hankinson. “She seems to be in a good position to know what it is the accused requires in terms of rehabilitation.”
“I still think (two years is) probably the most appropriate sentence,” said Purvis, adding the public deserves to be protected, including Merkle’s mom. “To think that somebody would break into their mom’s house, I don't know if it's more despicable than a stranger’s house or not. I don’t know.”
Gambler testified that on Aug. 6, 2020, she stopped at the home she was renting from her daughter in Calling Lake as she passed through with two young relatives from a visit in Wabasca and found Merkle sleeping on the couch. She said she was surprised to see him there as she had not given him permission to be there.
When she realized the door had been kicked in, she questioned him, and later had the door repaired and a new lock installed.
Then on Aug. 10, she received a call from her daughter as she was on the road, to tell her the door of the home was wide open and a window in the door had been broken. Gambler said when she returned to the home she found a note inside, the handwriting on which she recognized as her son’s, who also signed his name. Again, she said he didn’t have permission to be in the home.
She also noted Merkle later paid her $500 which she used to install a higher quality, more expensive door with a high-security doorknob, locks and deadbolt. She said she hasn’t had a problem since.
Upon cross-examination, Gambler told Merkle’s lawyer that she did not see her son kick in the door and said he had lived in the home at one point in the past but was asked to leave after causing damage.
On the first matter Purvis said the only logical conclusion was that Merkle at least entered the house through the broken door, and as he was seen inside, sleeping on the couch, the Crown had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. On the second charge, the judge also found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt citing the letter Merkle left where he admitted to causing the damage and later paid his mother $500.
Hankinson submitted Merkle’s criminal record, which showed 38 criminal convictions, including a handful for not following the terms of release, before the sentence was handed down.
“What’s tipping the balance here, and why I’m going to go along with the suggestion is because I’m really considering mom’s wishes here and I’m going to go along with them,” said Purvis.
Given the opportunity to speak, Merkle apologized for his earlier outburst.
“I’m sorry for disrespecting you in your courthouse and your officers,” a toned-down Merkle told Purvis, but declined to say anything further.