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So this is life as Cherrylle Dell's oldest daughter: the father you loved is suspiciously dead from an antifreeze overdose, the mother who once scared you into a women's shelter is charged with poisoning him, and you get called to court to tell a roomful of strangers about the strange nature of your family.

You get to tell them about your father who was fighting throat cancer, and who while fretting about the prospect of having his tongue cut out once joked "that if he ever got his cancer back, he could always just drink antifreeze."

You get to mention -- although your memory might be shaky -- the time your mom was worried about her dying cat, Asia, who'd lapped up radiator fluid so she phoned a vet to find out much antifreeze it would take to kill an animal.

But then you have to testify about how you overheard her ask "in a low voice" how much antifreeze it would take to poison a person.

The Pembroke judge hearing Ms. Dell's first-degree murder trial already knows the answer; a mere 3½ ounces of the slimy stuff guarantees death. It mixes easily with wine and makes a person feel drunk, then spreads acid through the body until the heart stops, experts testified yesterday.

The argument at this trial now concerns whether Scott Dell drank antifreeze of his own accord in late December, 1995, or whether his estranged wife sent him home with orders to consume a deliberately tainted bottle of wine.

After his death, a toxicology test found levels of ethylene glycol in Mr. Dell's blood equal to more than three times the amount that would be fatal without immediate care.

What then is a judge to make of the confusing testimony yesterday from the 24-year-old daughter?

The daughter's name is protected by a publication ban, but her evidence yesterday was another testament to Ms. Dell's abysmal skills as a parent. Born from an extramarital affair -- though she still considers Scott Dell her father --the young woman doesn't read very well, apparently because her mother yanked her from the public system for home schooling and then never got around to it.

She recalled that as a teenager she did most of the housework and cared for her infant siblings. A few years ago, she falsely accused her mother of trying to attack her with a knife; she did it, she said, hoping to get custody of her little brother and sister, who she claimed weren't being fed properly.

In the witness box yesterday, the daughter was inconsistent about certain details, but held on cross-examination to the substance of her overheard conversations.

"I just found it weird that she would ask about humans," she said when told that her mother had likely been phoning a vet, not poison control as she originally said. And she laughed off her father's odd jest. "I thought it was a kind of weird thing to joke about, but that was just my dad. That's how he was."

And then there was a third unusual conversation, the daughter testified. After her father died, she said, she was visiting her mom and from the bathroom she overheard her mother and Ms. Dell's then-lover, Nancy Fillmore, chatting.

Her mother, she said, was speaking angrily of Gay Doherty, the first woman for whom she'd left her husband, saying something about sending Ms. Doherty to Scott Dell's farmhouse and that "she knew exactly what [Ms. Doherty]would find there." Then, she said, Ms. Dell warned Ms. Fillmore to keep quiet.

Looking back, it all fits, though maybe a little too conveniently for the defence. Ms. Doherty, who had broken up with Ms. Dell and then formed a friendship with her husband, found Mr. Dell dead in his old farmhouse. And Ms. Fillmore, newly ditched by Ms. Dell two years later, would start the investigation rolling by giving detailed statements about the alleged poison plot her former lover devised.

Ms. Fillmore would then die in a house fire, for which Ms. Dell is also accused of first-degree murder.

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