British Columbia·Video

'I screamed like never before': Mother testifies at trial of ex, accused of killing daughters

Sarah Cotton recounted for a B.C. jury the moment on Christmas Day 2017 police told her that her two young daughters were dead. "I screamed like never before," she said.

Andrew Berry is charged with second-degree murder in the deaths of his daughters, Chloe and Aubrey

Chloe and Aubrey Berry with their mother, Sarah Cotton. Cotton's former common-law spouse, Andrew Berry, is accused of second-degree murder in the girls' deaths. (Ryan MacDonald Photography)

As the minutes turned into hours on Christmas Day 2017 and there was no sign of her two young daughters, Sarah Cotton began to panic.

Her former common-law spouse, Andrew Berry, was supposed to bring them back by noon. She had invited his parents to her home to celebrate the holiday with their granddaughters.

But when the grandparents arrived at 2 p.m., Cotton told a B.C. Supreme Court jury Monday, Berry had still not returned the girls.

Cotton was testifying at Berry's trial in Vancouver for second-degree murder in the deaths of his children, six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey.

'I was in complete shock'

Speaking through tears, her voice dropping to near-silence at times, she replayed events as she went with Berry's mother, first to Berry's apartment, then to several of his favourite spots, then to Oak Bay police  in the Victoria area.

Cotton said she had emailed herself a copy of the Family Court order requiring Berry to bring the children back at noon so she could show police. They said they would go to his home.

Andrew Berry appears in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. (Felicity Don/Canadian Press)

And so, she said, she waited.

"It felt like forever," she said. "I knew at that point, it wasn't good."

Her fears grew even more, as she saw a number of Saanich police officers appear at the station. And then, she said, she was asked to go into the chief's office.

She recalled a pair of female police officers locking her into a tight embrace as she sat down in a chair.

"They said Chloe and Aubrey have been injured," she said.

But at least, she said she thought — they're alive. And then she was told her children were dead.

"I screamed like never before," Cotton said. "I was in complete shock."

'Just like camping'

Berry has pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of his children.

The girls were found with multiple stab wounds, lying in beds in separate bedrooms. According to the Crown, police found the Oak Bay man naked in the bathtub with a black eye and stab wounds to his neck and throat.

He allegedly told first responders: "Kill me" and "Leave me alone."

Crown prosecutor Patrick Weir questions Cotton at the trial. (Jane Wolsak )

Cotton took the stand Monday in front of a full public gallery. Berry sat in the prisoner's dock about 15 metres away, within sight of his former spouse, who identified him for the jury.

She detailed a relationship that began in 2009 when they were working at BC Ferries. But she said the relationship deteriorated after the birth of their first daughter.

The Crown has said  Berry quit his job in May 2017 and was struggling financially. His power was shut off and he was facing eviction by December 2017.

By Christmas, Cotton said, she and Berry communicated mainly by email and text about parental arrangements.

Berry was supposed to have the girls from 5 p.m. on Dec. 21 until noon on Christmas Day and then Cotton, a public relations professional, was supposed to take them for 24 hours.

Cotton described driving past Berry's apartment on her way with the girls to drop off some presents for friends.

She said there were no lights on in the apartment.

"I said to the girls: 'It looks like Daddy isn't home,'" she said.

But Cotton said Chloe told her he was home, and that they used flashlights in the apartment: "Just like camping."

Christmas Eve 2017: Andrew Berry shops with his daughters:

Video shown to a B.C. jury at the Andrew Berry murder trial shows Berry with his daughters Chloe and Aubrey on Christmas Eve 2017. A day later, the girls were found dead inside their dad's apartment. 1:11

'Concerned for their well-being'

Cotton, who earlier said she'd had to go through an enforcement process to get child support, said she worried Berry's electricity had been cut off.

She said she dropped the girls off later, but couldn't stop thinking that they would be without power at Christmas.

"I was concerned for their well-being," she said.

Cotton said she emailed Berry with her concerns but got no response. She saw the girls a last time on Dec. 22 when she dropped off Chloe's "beloved stuffed toy," Lamby.

"They said, 'Mummy, how many nights until we see you?'" Cotton testified, her voice breaking.

"I said, 'It's supposed to be three' — I said 'supposed to be' because I was hoping I could get them back from Andrew if he didn't have hydro."

"I told them that I loved them," Cotton told the jury. "And hugged them."

She described Berry as looking "very distant, very far away" at that time, as she asked him to check the email she had sent.

She also read out a follow-up email saying, that while two nights without power might be an "adventure," she was concerned about the girls spending longer without power for light, refrigeration or cooking.

Cotton also said she had packed gloves and tuques for the girls.

And then came Christmas Day, stuffing stockings, preparing Christmas dinner and waiting for noon — and what was supposed to be Cotton's turn with the kids.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.