British Columbia

'My children died on Christmas Day': Mother erupts at B.C. murder trial

A grieving mother's frustration surfaced Wednesday at the B.C. Supreme Court trial of the man who is accused of killing both her daughters.

Sarah Cotton continued testimony Wednesday at trial of former partner accused of killing daughters

Sarah Cotton is pictured with daughters Chloe and Aubrey Berry. Both girls were killed Dec. 25 2017. Their father has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. (Ryan MacDonald Photography)

A grieving mother's frustration surfaced Wednesday at the B.C. Supreme Court trial of the man accused of murdering both her daughters.

Mid-way through her third day of cross-examination at her former common-law spouse's trial, Sarah Cotton broke into tears during repeated questions about her actions on the day six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey Berry died.

It was Dec. 25, 2017 and Cotton said she went to Andrew Berry's apartment to look for the girls when he failed to return them at noon as mandated by a family court order.

Defence lawyer Kevin McCullough — who had previously accused Cotton of lying about various aspects of her relationship with Berry — challenged her recollection of her actions during those crucial moments.

Which windows did she knock on? Was she sure? What about the snow toys a friend had allegedly spotted outside? Was Cotton now suggesting she might have seen them?

"My children died on Christmas Day, so my memory about the snow toys may not be perfect," Cotton responded as she started to sob.

"I was not focused on snow toys. I was focused on finding my children, alive."

Composure during cross-examination

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

The girls were found in the hours after Cotton went by the apartment, lying in separate bedrooms with multiple stab wounds.

Crown prosecutors say that Berry was found in the bathtub with a black eye and stab wounds.

Andrew Berry is on trial for second-degree murder in B.C. Supreme Court. He has pleaded not guilty. (Felicity Don/Canadian Press)

Cotton testified that while she knocked on two of the windows, she did not attempt to peer through them. She said the windows were covered by drawn Venetian blinds.

For the most part, Cotton kept her composure during her testimony in front of the jury.

A number of family members sat in the three rows of public seating in the public gallery, and Berry watched from the prisoner's dock.

The accused, who wore a blue suit, looked down or away from Cotton during much of her testimony. He moved a pen back and forth between his fingers, occasionally wrote on a note pad and motioned to his lawyers at times.

According to the Crown, Berry quit his job in May 2017 and was struggling financially. His power was shut off and he was facing eviction by December 2017.

'You're looking at worst-case scenarios'

McCullough spent much of his cross-examination probing Cotton's claim the two never spoke face-to-face in the months after a custody trial that ended with Berry getting 40 per cent parenting time in May 2017.

At one point, he presented her with notes she admitted showed that the two had in fact spoken in person on two occasions — to have an argument.

Andrew Berry sat in the prisoner's dock as Crown prosecutor Patrick Weir questioned Sarah Cotton on the first day of her testimony. (Jane Wolsak )

The defence lawyer also suggested Cotton knew more than she was admitting about Berry's gambling debts, reminding her of an email she wrote a friend in May 2017 in which she said "my gut tells me that he's in a bad place and may have people after him."

Cotton said she knew that Berry engaged in online sports betting, but believed he was only doing it twice a week. She claimed she also learned of his mother's concerns about gambling through an email.

She said she assumed that his debts might have had something to do with a hole in his window that went unfixed for some time.

"You're looking at worst-case scenarios and that's where my mind went," Cotton told the jury.

But she said one of the girls said a ball had gone through the window.

'I did not expect to find them dead'

As the cross-examination wound down, McCullough returned again to Cotton's actions on the day that her daughters died.

He asked her about a statement she made to prosecutors last June in which she said she "possibly" knocked on a second bedroom window at Berry's apartment — something she said she hadn't done in her trial testimony.

"You said you possibly knocked on the second bedroom and you remember all the questions I asked you ... about you desperately wanting to locate your children," McCullough asked.

"Remember?"

"As I said, I did not expect to find them dead in their bedrooms. I didn't hear them. I didn't think they were home," Cotton replied.

McCullough asked her again about the windows.

"I don't know why we're harping on this," Cotton responded.

The trial continues.

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.