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A Quebec woman on trial for murder in the deaths of her two young daughters testified Tuesday that her children were the sole source of joy in her life.

Adele Sorella took the stand in her defence, recounting to the jury how her life took a turn following surgery to remove a brain tumour, which left her with physical disabilities and began her on a path to mental illness.

Her testimony was difficult as she is deaf in one ear and was left with partial facial paralysis after the brain surgery. Her statements were interspersed with tears.

She said she was pregnant with her second daughter, Sabrina, when vomiting landed her in a hospital emergency room. The doctors detected a loss of hearing, she said, but fearful for the health of her unborn child, she refused the cortisone prescribed.

Doctors recommended brain surgery, but she said she preferred to wait until her child was born. After the operation, one eye would not close completely, her mouth was paralyzed and she would constantly lose her balance. She could not smile, and she could not take her daughters in her arms, she said.

“I had become a burden,” she told the jury, adding that it was the beginning of her mental illness.

In 2006, police arrived at her home to arrest her husband, Giuseppe De Vito as part of a major anti-Mafia operation dubbed Project Colisee. Sorella told the court this was the first inkling she had that her husband was involved with organized crime.

“I told them, ‘You’ve got the wrong person,’ ” she said. But it turned out her husband was not just out of town for a few days; he was a fugitive on the run.

It was the last straw, and her mental state deteriorated, she said. Between 2006 and 2008, she said she tried to take her own life three times. She said she felt guilty that she was unable to give her daughters a happy life, but she never tried to harm them.

Sorella, 52, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of Amanda De Vito, 9, and Sabrina De Vito, 8. The girls were found dead in the family playroom on March 31, 2009, dressed in their school uniforms.

The cause of death was never established, but the girls were in good health, and Crown prosecutor Nektarios Tzortzinas has told the court the sisters could not have died from natural causes. He stated at the beginning of the trial that only Sorella had the opportunity to kill the girls.

Sorella’s testimony is scheduled to resume Wednesday.

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