British Columbia

Mom of girls murdered by their father says facing Christmas is devastating

Sarah Cotton told a B.C. Supreme Court sentencing hearing she never imagined her former partner, Andrew Berry, would murder his own defenceless daughters.

Sarah Cotton said she never imagined her former partner, Andrew Berry, would murder her 2 girls

The bodies of six-year-old Chloe Berry, left, and her four-year-old sister Aubrey, right, were found in an Oak Bay apartment on Christmas Day. (Submitted)

A mother of two murdered girls says her life has become a living nightmare from which she never awakes.

Sarah Cotton told a B.C. Supreme Court sentencing hearing for her former partner on Tuesday that she has "profound pain and sadness."

"I will never again have that contented feeling of knowing my children are fast asleep in their beds," said Cotton, who explained how she battles depression, anxiety, exhaustion and insomnia.

A jury found the girls' father, Andrew Berry, guilty of two charges of second-degree murder in September. Six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey were murdered Christmas Day two years ago in their father's Oak Bay apartment.

The court is expected to hear 17 witness impact statements during the four-day sentencing hearing for Berry, 45, who sat in the prisoner's box with his head bowed as his former partner read her statement.

"Their hearts were so pure," she told the court. "Their hearts were so full of love."

'My identity is gone'

The trial heard each girl had been stabbed dozens of times and left on their beds in Berry's suburban Victoria apartment. He was found unconscious in the bathtub, suffering stab wounds to his neck and throat.

Berry testified he was attacked because he owed money to a loan shark. But the Crown argued the motive for the murders was Berry's anger toward his estranged partner, who he believed planned to seek an end to their joint custody of the girls.

Cotton said testifying at the trial was "unbearable and vile." She said the trial and ongoing media reports about the murders traumatize her daily.

Part of a victim impact statement from a family friend introduced at Andrew Berry's trial The five-year-old boy who drew it says he is alone on the right, crying. Chloe and Aubrey are in the rainbow house in the sky, on the left. The boy says the birds are how he communicates with his friends now. (B.C. Supreme Court)

"My identity is gone," Cotton said. "I am no longer the mother who takes her children to school every day. I feel such an emptiness without them."

Sara Healing told the court her family was often together with Cotton and her daughters including for Halloween, birthdays and holidays.

"Losing the girls has been the singular worst event in my family's life and has left a hole so huge and so gaping that describing it and the extent of its impact seems impossible," she told the court.

"I will never again have that contented feeling of knowing my children are fast asleep in their beds." ​​​​- Sarah Cotton

She said the deaths have increased her level of anxiety and changed her view of the world.

"I have random intrusive thoughts on a regular basis, thoughts of something terrible happening and both my children dying," Healing said.

She said telling her son about the deaths of Chloe and Aubrey was one of the hardest moments of her life.

"How do you tell a four-year-old that two of his favourite and most loved people are dead?"

A community in shock

Kevin Murdoch, mayor of Oak Bay, is among the 17 people delivering impact statements at the hearing. He spoke in court on Tuesday about the impact of the crime on the community and said it was a challenge to make it through his statement without breaking down from emotion.

"They are hard things to hear. It was very, very intense," said Murdoch on Wednesday on CBC's On The Islandadding thousands of people in the community are still shaken by the event.

He said the shock to the community was apparent a few days after the girls were killed when people gathered in Willows Park for a candlelight vigil.

"There was all this emotion and nowhere to share it," said Murdoch. "It was very telling on its impact on the community and my observation is that it is continuing to this day."

Murdoch, who is also chair of the police board, also spoke about the impact on first responders and social workers.

"There's an innocence to these two girls and a violence to this crime that makes it different than others," said Murdoch. "They come across bad things all the time, but this one was very impactful."

The mayor said he has utter faith the judge will make a reasonable decision and it will "be good to have it over with."

Berry has shown no remorse: Crown

Second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, but parole eligibility can be set between 10 and 25 years.

The judge must also decide if sentences for multiple counts of murder should be served consecutively or concurrently.

Following the verdict in September, six of 12 jurors recommended Berry serve 15 years, consecutively, before he is eligible for parole on each count; two jurors called for 10 years to be served concurrently; and four jurors made no recommendation.

Crown counsel Patrick Weir told the court he is seeking 21 to 24 years to be served concurrently before Berry is eligible to apply for parole.

"Neither of these children could have fought back or defended themselves against these horrific attacks," he said. "They were utterly defenceless. These children should have been protected by their father, not murdered by him."

Weir said Berry has shown no remorse and the murders warrant strong denunciation by the court.

With files from On The Island

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