Quebec woman guilty of 2nd-degree murder of 2 daughters

A Laval, Que., woman has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of her two young daughters, whose bodies were found at the family home in 2009.

Jury reaches verdict on 6th day of deliberations in 2nd trial on 1st-degree murder charges

Adele Sorella is appealing after being found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of her daughters. (Radio-Canada)

A Laval, Que., woman has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of her two young daughters, whose bodies were found at the family home back in 2009.

Adele Sorella, 53, displayed little emotion as the foreman of the jury, made up of six women and six men, delivered the verdict to a Laval courtroom packed with reporters, members of the public and curious courthouse employees.

The verdict, which carries with it a minimum sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 to 25 years, was delivered on the jury's sixth day of deliberations.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Sophie Bourque has sent jurors to be sequestered once more, to consult each other on what period of ineligibility for parole they recommend.

Sorella was charged with the first-degree murders of her daughters Amanda, nine, and Sabrina, eight, after their uncle discovered their bodies, dressed in their school uniforms and lying side by side in the playroom of their Laval home, on the afternoon of March 31, 2009.

Sorella was arrested that night after crashing her car into a pole.

The jury had to choose one of five possible verdicts:

  • Not guilty of first-degree murder.
  • Not criminally responsible for the girls' deaths.
  • Not guilty of first-degree murder, but guilty of manslaughter.
  • Not guilty of first-degree murder, but guilty of second-degree murder.
  • Guilty of first-degree murder.

There were no signs of violence on the girls' bodies and no official cause of death has been established. 

The pathologist who conducted their autopsies said the probable cause was asphyxiation in a hyperbaric chamber that was found in Sorella's home. The court heard that Sorella's husband, Giuseppe De Vito, bought the chamber to treat Sabrina's juvenile arthritis.

De Vito was on the run from authorities at the time of his daughters' deaths and died of cyanide poisoning in prison in 2013, after his 2010 conviction for conspiracy to import drugs and gangsterism.

In her instructions to the jury, Bourque told its members their task was complex because the prosecution's case relied on circumstantial evidence. 

"There is no material evidence tying Adele Sorella to the death of her daughters," she said. 

Defence lawyer Pierre Poupart told the jury, in his closing arguments, that there would always be questions remaining in the case. 

"In 15 years, you'll talk about it and there will still be enigmas," he said.

Second trial

This is the second time Sorella has been prosecuted in connection with her daughters' deaths, a detail that could not be reported before the jury was sequestered last week.

She was convicted of their first-degree murders in 2013 but appealed the conviction.

In 2017, the Quebec Court of Appeal found the trial judge, Superior Court Justice Carol Cohen, gave improper guidance about how the jury should weigh the evidence and ordered a new trial.

That second trial began in November and lasted just under 12 weeks. There have been some differences between the two trials.

Sorella did not testify during the first trial, but the video of her police interrogation was admitted as evidence. It was not this time around.

The 911 call by Luigi Sorella, Adele's older brother, who found the girls' bodies, was admitted in the first trial, but not the second. The scream of Sorella's mother, Teresa Di Cesare, as she, too, arrived at the home and saw the bodies, can be heard on the call.

The jurors heard the testimony of 51 witnesses, halting proceedings to ask questions 44 times — a high number, which the judge remarked upon in her address to the jury before it was sequestered.

Strained marriage, suicide attempts

While testifying in her own defence, Sorella told the court that being a mother defined her life.

Sorella had been diagnosed with a tumour behind her right ear while she was pregnant with Sabrina, she told the court.

She waited until her daughter was born to have it removed, but the recovery was rough. She said that this was when her mental health started to deteriorate.

Sorella described De Vito as a good father, but about eight years into their marriage, she said, he was often not at home.

In 2006, their relationship became strained. That November, police showed up at her door with a warrant for her husband's arrest on drug-related charges, she said.

De Vito went into hiding, and faced with the stress of an absent husband, a difficult recovery from her surgery and her mental illness, Sorella attempted suicide in December 2006 — the first of three attempts.

She told the court she felt as though her daughters were better off without her.

During the trial, the jury asked Sorella, via a written question, whether she ever felt the need to hurt anyone else during those suicide attempts.

"I never tried to take anyone else with me," she replied.

With files from Verity Stevenson and Elias Abboud