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Sarah Cotton holds her daughters Chloe, left, and Aubrey Berry in October 2017 in this handout photo.Ryan MacDonald/The Canadian Press

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 Ms. Cotton, who explained how she battles depression, anxiety, exhaustion and insomnia.

A jury found the father of the girls, 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 Mr. Berry, 45, who sat in the prisoner’s box with his head bowed as his former partner read her statement.

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. Defence counsel Kevin McCullough recommended a sentence ranging from 15 to 20 years.

Berry, 45, was asked if he wanted to address the court at the conclusion of the hearing. He stood and said he had nothing to say.

McCullough told the court on Monday that Berry maintains he did not kill his children and his testimony during the trial was the truth.

Earlier, Berry sat in the prisoner’s box with his head bowed as his former partner read her statement about the loss of her daughters.

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

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

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

Ms. Cotton said testifying at the trial was “unbearable and vile.” She said the trial and continuing media reports about the murders traumatize her daily.

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

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.

McCullough said sentencing should take into account that Berry took responsibility for the poor state of his life, especially his large debts, and the affect it had on his daughters.

The court should also consider that Berry had no criminal record prior to being found guilty, he added.

“Mr. Berry says he did not kill the children,” said McCullough. “He simply is not the killer, he says.”

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

“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. The gravity of the crime really cannot be overstated.”

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