A mother whose two young daughters were found dead in their father’s Vancouver Island apartment has testified she was “very upset” with a court decision that granted him joint custody.
Defence lawyer Kevin McCullough continued his cross-examination Tuesday of Sarah Cotton, the mother of Chloe Berry, 6, and Aubrey Berry, 4, who were found dead in Oak Bay, B.C., on Christmas Day in 2017.
The girls’ father, Andrew Berry, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. The Crown has argued he stabbed his daughters dozens of times before attempting to kill himself.
Mr. McCullough asked if Ms. Cotton was “very upset” with the custody decision in May, 2017 that allowed Mr. Berry access to their daughters 40 per cent of the time, and she replied that she was.
“I was also very concerned about the schedule that was put in place for them because it was too much back and forth,” Ms. Cotton told a B.C. Supreme Court jury.
The court has heard the couple met while working at BC Ferries and began dating in 2009. They were living with their two young daughters as common-law spouses in September, 2013, when Ms. Cotton called police alleging she had been assaulted by Mr. Berry.
A criminal-assault charge against him did not proceed and he instead signed a peace bond that meant he was to have no contact with Ms. Cotton except in relation to their daughters, the court has heard.
Ms. Cotton later called the Children’s Ministry twice saying that Mr. Berry had sexually touched Aubrey, but police found no evidence the touching was sexual or criminal in nature.
Ms. Cotton rejected Mr. McCullough’s characterization of the incidents as her making “allegations” of sexual touching.
“I wouldn’t say I made allegations. I reported what my daughter told me because I had the responsibility to,” she said.
The parents entered into custody proceedings in 2016 and a May, 2017 decision awarded Mr. Berry significantly more parenting time than he had previously. Ms. Cotton has testified she was shocked by the decision.
Mr. McCullough read texts and e-mails between the parents from June through October, 2017 that he said suggested co-parenting was going “very well” and that they were regularly speaking in person.
Ms. Cotton repeatedly clarified his assertions, saying that all their communication took place in text messages, e-mails and brief phone calls.
“Andrew would not communicate with me face to face,” she said.
The messages focused on parenting matters, such as picking up and dropping off the girls, their daily activities, occasional illnesses and school lunches.
Ms. Cotton said that it was difficult to read into text messages and the exchanges were not “pleasant,” but were “amicable” at one point. She also said some messages appeared to be missing from the court’s record.
In response to Mr. McCullough’s suggestion that they were “co-parenting very well,” Ms. Cotton replied with a shrug, “We were co-parenting.”
The court has heard that Ms. Cotton went to the Oak Bay police detachment on Dec. 25, 2017, after Mr. Berry failed to return their daughters as required.
Crown lawyer Clare Jennings has told the jury that police went to his apartment and found Chloe and Aubrey dead, lying on beds in separate bedrooms with multiple stab wounds.
Police found Mr. Berry naked in the bathtub with a black eye and stab wounds to his neck and throat, and he told first responders, “Kill me,” and “Leave me alone,” Ms. Jennings has said.
Mr. McCullough has argued that the first police officer who responded to the scene made a mistake by leaving the apartment door unattended for about five minutes. The officer testified that he did not know whether anyone had left the suite during that time.
The defence lawyer has also questioned Ms. Cotton about an e-mail she sent to a friend in May, 2017, in which she said she was worried people may be “after” Mr. Berry because of his gambling debts.
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