Sharing this publicly is not cathartic. It is not part of my healing process. It is not merely an emotional response to my own traumatic experience. It is a very difficult thing to do, but I see it as entirely necessary.
The reason I believe it is necessary is because it is a testament to Cassandra Ashley Kaake’s choice as a living woman, just as it is a testament to the existence of the living human being that was Molly Grace Kaake-Durham, our daughter.
Both were killed on December 10th, 2014, but only one is being spoken for by our country’s laws.
What I point to is not the cruelness and indignity of the crime itself, but to the cruelness and indignity of a system of law that does not see this as a crime against our family – our daughter.
Whether it is viewed through the lens of a woman’s right, or a child’s right to life, it is not their difference that I point to, but it where they are the exact same. To continue to ignore this sameness is to subject another family the cruelness and indignity that is a consequence of this absence of law, just as it is to strip another woman of the value we say it is her right to choose.
All that I can do is I hope that by holding up this terrible picture, a bell will be rung in the hearts and minds of the people with the power to address such issues in a meaningful and substantive way.
The following is my victim impact statement as it was written and read to the best of my ability, and in consideration to the limitations of language that was permissible as described to me by the crown.
Victim Impact Statement
As I sit down to write this impact statement I am aware that I am undertaking an impossible task. There is no way to quantify with words the impact that these crimes have had on my life. If there are words that can accurately convey the depth of the torment and disparity that I continue to experience, I don’t know them.
It has been two years of searching and distinguishing between the words that are difficult to find, and the ones I am advised to not speak.
It was shortly after father’s day in 2014 that Cassie told me she was pregnant. At this point there were no forgone conclusions. We were not in a good place in our relationship. We had been having the same disagreement for months. To have a baby was not a part of our plans. Initially, neither of us was overjoyed with the obstacles these circumstances revealed to us.
After a great deal of discussion about the possibilities and options that were there for us to decide, we agreed that we would take some time to carefully consider everything. There was a fork in our road and it was greater than anything that we had previously experienced together.
Five years before, we became friends when she started working at the same place where I worked. We were drawn to each other in more than just friendship and it didn’t take long before we had started seeing each other romantically. In those five years we came to know each other intimately. We knew each other’s hopes and fears. We loved each other. We argued with each other. We experienced each other’s happiness and sadness. We shared life.
Now life was about to change. For better or for worse, it was for us to decide if we were going to have a baby, or not have a baby. More accurately, it was for her to decide. She would have the final say. That is something that we both knew and easily agreed on.
She always said that she wanted to have kids. It was a point of contention in our relationship. I remember her telling me once of the follicles a woman had, and how they would turn into an egg, and that there was a limited number she could have in her life. I would remind her that I’d been a father since I was seventeen years old. I probably said things like, “One is enough for me.”
It was not a surprise to me that Cassie chose motherhood. Clearly and definitively, Cassie chose to nurture the life that had begun to grow inside of her. She was proud of her choice. It made her feel good. It was her choice and no one could take it away.
We were going to have a baby and on July 10th we went for the first ultrasound. Later that night, I did what made it official for me. I told my daughter Alexa that she was finally going to have the sibling that she always wanted.
It would be exactly five months from this night that any such reality would be destroyed.
Those five months were a time of profound change. Cassie and I argued a lot about the road ahead. We always had, but this was different. It felt like there was so much on the line about our future. We both had very specific ideas. We both just wanted what we thought was best for the baby, and while we fought through our disagreements, the baby was becoming less vague a notion and more of a person.
By August I could see her in Cassie. We had seen her in the ultrasound the month before where we could hear her faint heartbeat and see the tiny beginnings of what was supposed become a person, fully independent of us, in about nineteen years or so, but this was the first time I had really seen her in Cassie. She was starting to show. Her breasts were bigger, her belly had a bump, but it was her eyes that gave everything away. They were so big and bright and focused. They were wild with life and determination. Whatever storm that there was between the two of us, there was a calm in her eyes and I knew it was our baby.
But where would we live? And what about the issues that seemed to plague our relationship? These things were so important to us. She wanted things her way and I wanted them mine. There was always something, and compromise was somehow impossible for us. It was a time for planning, and every plan resulted in an argument.
There were four weeks leading into September that we didn’t talk. The reasons for this course of action are difficult to remember now. They elude me often and I can’t help but hate myself for every minute of that time. How many things could be different if it wasn’t like that then? Maybe they would be here if it was.
I was trying to focus on what I thought was the future. I had to make better the things that I felt I had control of. I had to learn to see our baby independently of our relationship. She wasn’t Cassie. She wasn’t me. She wasn’t our arguments or the chaos of it all. She was an innocent human being who needed us to do the best we could with what we had.
But Cassie felt abandon. That’s what she said. And no matter what I did to tell her that I would never abandoned either of them, no matter the words or reasoning or anything I could say at all was going to stop her from feeling like that. All I could do was show her. All I could do was tell myself that she would see that one day.
I became obsessed with making my house better. I started painting everything. I started redoing everything from the floors to the ceiling. While I was doing it I thought of little else other than what to say to Cassie. How to respond to the things she said – how to make things good for the three of us.
We both were working six days a week and we were on opposite shifts. There was little time to talk in person, and when we did it just seemed to end up in the same old arguments. We were communicating through email. It was what we had.
The last email that she wrote said, “I hate you but I wish you could tell me everything was going to be alright.”
How could I tell her everything was going to be alright when I was scared too?
On the night of December 10th I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake in the dark searching my mind for ways to make it so everything could be alright. So I could say it to her and it would be true.
While they were being murdered only blocks away, I laid in bed ignorant and useless and thinking.
I remember hearing sirens.
On the morning of December 11th, 2014, I arrived at work like any other day. As I was about to get out of the car, I heard on the radio that there was a fire on the 1500 block of Benjamin. That was Cassie’s street. Of course it couldn’t be her house, but I was worried.
I went inside work and called her cell phone. There was no answer. I tried to start doing my job. Of course they were ok, but the thing on the radio kept playing over in my head. After trying to call again and getting no answer, I left work. I had to make sure they were ok.
As I drove to her house I remember thinking that she would be surprised to see me. I imagined knocking on her door and her answering in pyjamas. I would explain why I was there and something of that would make her feel better about everything that we were going through. She would see that it wasn’t true to think that I would abandon her. She would see that it was going to be alright.
The worst case scenario was that it was her house, and she’d be sitting on the curb with her dog Onyx, maybe wrapped in a blanket and crying, but she would see that I was there and then I would hug her and she would know that I would never abandoned them. She would see that everything was going to be ok.
I pulled up behind a fire truck. I walked around the corner. It was her house.
She was not sitting on the curb. I couldn’t see her anywhere.
I kept asking where they were but no one would tell me. They told me to wait. The first thing the detectives asked was to see my hands and then my arms. What did that mean? I didn’t know what was happening. I showed them and kept asking…
I asked in different ways but nobody would give me even a hint. They told me they’d talk to me at the police station, but when we got there they made me wait more. Every second was a terrible eternity. Every scenario I imagined grew worse than the last.
But, none of them were as bad as what I found out.
They put me in a room where I knew I was being recorded. That’s where they finally told me.
I was told they were dead. I was told they didn’t die in a fire. I didn’t say it, but I didn’t believe him.
He said somebody killed them, and though he didn’t say it in so many words, they thought I killed Cassie and Molly.
I don’t remember what they asked or how long I was there. But I know I gave them the clothes I was wearing, my jacket, my boots, and my blood, whatever they wanted. When I left I was wearing a prison jumpsuit.
None of this could be real. None of it could be real.
When I finally sunk all the way to the bottom that night, I only wanted to die. The agony and terror was like nothing I had ever known… I know it now, and I’ll never be able to un-know it.
Who could do this? There wasn’t anyone. For them there was only the boyfriend. For me there was nobody.
The next day I was brought in and interrogated. It was different this time. There weren’t allusions, there were direct accusations. I felt like I was losing my mind. I didn’t know what was real. I was so distraught with sadness and the guilt of not having been there to protect them. Of course I didn’t do it, but I felt like this was my fault. It’s a feeling that haunts me as I write these words now.
That day a picture of my car was in the newspaper. The news said it was part of the investigation and that it was towed. These things weren’t true, but I knew what that would mean to the people we worked with. I couldn’t look at the news, but I didn’t have to because I could read it on my sister’s face. She read the comments and some of them were written by people that Cassie and I worked with. People I only knew in passing, but they wrote as if they knew me, and as if they knew what happened.
How could any of this be real?
My house was watched 24 hours a day. The few times I left, it I was followed. I was unnerved by these things beyond words. I never knew such paranoia before.
I’m not sure what was more terrifying about leaving my house – that people would look at me as if I did this, or that I would look at anyone I saw as if they did this.
On the Sunday I went to the hospital. I didn’t know what else to do. As I stood in the waiting room somebody came in and handed out free newspapers. As people held them up to read, all I could see on the front page was the story of the murdered pregnant woman. There was no refuge from the torment.
A couple days later detectives came to my door. They told me I wasn’t allowed to go to their funeral. If I did, “there was going to be problems,” they said. They told me to relay that message to everyone in my family.
I wasn’t allowed to go to my own daughter’s funeral. I was so terrified and sad I couldn’t even say anything to defend myself. I wasn’t allowed to mourn their death with the people that knew and loved them. They thought I didn’t deserve it. They thought I was the reason it was happening.
But whatever it was that was the easiest thing for any of them to think about me, how could I tell my daughter that she wasn’t allowed to go to her sister’s funeral? It was disgusting and selfish, but I had no strength. I couldn’t speak.
Every bit of this nightmare was compounding. I could hardly talk to the people around me. All I could see was how scared they were for me. All I could think about was where Cassie and Molly were. I wanted to be where they were.
The only time I turned on the TV was for a press conference where the investigators said it was the worst crime scene that they had ever seen. I don’t remember when I was able to turn the TV on again after that.
There were rumours about the crime scene but people wouldn’t tell them to me. They were trying to protect me. I didn’t want to know, but I desperately wanted to know. I was being torn apart in so many ways.
Four days before Christmas was the lie detector test. I was hooked up to a man-made machine that was supposed to determine what my truths were. The truth was, I have never felt so gutturally terrified – The truth was, I knew none of this compared to the terror that Cassie and Molly must have felt.
They said that it was my choice to take this test, but how could it be a choice when the alternative was to allow them to keep thinking that I did this instead of looking for their killer? If I was being torn apart, it was this event that shredded me beyond my own comprehension.
And then it was Christmas. It was Cassie’s favourite time of year. I could not imagine a possible universe where it would not have been Molly’s too. Cassie would always help me wrap the gifts I had bought for my family. She took joy in every single thing about this time of year. She was a kid and I was a grumpy old man about it. But the reality was that I found my own happiness in her joy for Christmas over the years.
Christmas Eve was the first night I spent alone. I had been babysat since the first day. My family and friends must have felt confident that I wasn’t going to kill myself by then, but I spent that night dying in a different way.
There could never be another Christmas without Cassie in this world. There will never be the warmth of childish anticipation for me to experience through Molly. My future was erased. The pictures that brought the most hope and meaning were gone.
Why? And how could anybody think that I would do that to myself let alone to them?
Every day that he hid from his crime brought new terrors. These terrors were a public spectacle. They were the subject of debates on radio shows and in the newspaper. The police wanted help from the public in the form of voluntary blood samples. I listened to these debates and was impotent to do anything.
It was a big controversy just like so many things to come.
The day before he was arrested – ten days before the day Molly was due to be born, and almost two months since the night he killed them – a lawyer told me to get used to the way things were. He told me that sometimes they never find the guilty party, and because I was the “boyfriend”, they will always look to me first.
How long could I live like this?
The next morning I learned of the arrest. I didn’t recognize his name. I did not feel relieved. I did not feel vindicated. All I felt was anger and desperation for answers. I felt like maybe I could speak now without the fear of having my words construed into something that was going to be used against me. Maybe I could talk to her friends and her family now. Maybe they could see that this terrible thing was something that was happening to me too.
Maybe they could know that I loved Cassie, and that I loved Molly.
I heard what he was charged with on the radio. They confirmed all the grim pictures in my mind of a terrible reality. But it was what they excluded that have shaped every single one of my days since.
I could never have imagined such a feeling of demoralization as what I’ve experienced since I’ve learned of that exclusion. I am consumed by in so many different ways every day.
Molly was our daughter. To us – she was real.
Two and a half months ago I went back to work. I had been off for nearly two years.
Every day I walk by the last place that I saw them. Every day I look for her in the crowd at the punch clock where I know she won’t be. I avoid eye contact with the people I work with. Other times I stare intently. The judgements that were imparted on me did not leave my mind. I know they never will. I am uncomfortable there now. I know I can’t stay there.
I don’t see my friends very often anymore. They don’t come over and I don’t blame them. My house smells bad now and don’t care. I don’t smile. I only feel far away and separate from the things normal people care about. I don’t feel like I can relate anymore. I am alone most of the time. It is better that way.
I carry this with me everywhere. The weight of all of this is connected to every thought. I feel like to be around people is to expose this disfigurement where it will be criticized and judged more.
He went to their funeral. I was not allowed – he went to their funeral as if it was me who caused their death and not him. He sat amongst her friends and family where I should have been.
My joy is gone. I used to do so many things. I used to do them with people. Now everything is a chore and I only long to be alone and unconscious in my bed. I feel closer to this infinite abyss of sadness than anything else. Sleep is my only escape. I feel closer to death than I do to life. There are times I long for it.
I have friends that think I’m crazy now. I have friends that think I’ve overreacted about my daughter’s death. I don’t talk to them anymore and it’s hard to imagine how we can still be friends.
I am constantly trying to understand how one person’s reality can be so completely erased and replaced with these things that aren’t real.
When I hear sirens I can feel what he did to her. I can feel it as if I had Cassie’s skin. I can hear it as if I had Molly’s ears.
I remember the last ultrasound. I remember being able to distinguish clearly between two hearts beating.
For how long that night did one of them have to beat alone?
There is not an end to the impact of these crimes. Not for me. Not until I am the one that’s dead.
I am the one with the life sentence, except for me there is no chance of parole.