An Oak Bay man has been convicted of the murders of his two young daughters on Christmas Day 2017.
A B.C. Supreme Court jury convicted Andrew Berry of the second-degree murders of six-year-old Chloe Elizabeth Berry and four-year-old Aubrey Kate Berry, who were stabbed to death at his Beach Drive apartment.
The jury, which had been sitting since mid-April, reached the unanimous verdict after deliberating for 18 hours over three days.
At the Vancouver Law Courts, where the trial was held, there was a loud gasp of relief in the front row of the courtroom as the verdict was read. Berry hung his head and spoke quietly with his lawyers as the court took a short break.
At the Victoria courthouse, where the trial has been live-streamed, the hearing room was overflowing. Sarah Cotton, the girls’ mother, sat anxiously in the front row with her partner Scott Elliott waiting for the jury to enter the courtroom. As the foreman delivered the verdict, she cried with relief.
“It’s been such a long journey. It’s just such a relief,” she said, hugging friends, relatives and police officers who worked on the case.
Berry is automatically sentenced to life in prison for the murders.
Justice Miriam Gropper asked the nine-man, three-woman jury whether they want to make a recommendation for how much time Berry must serve before he is eligible for parole. Parole eligibility for second-degree murder is 10 to 25 years.
Two jurors recommended Berry serve 10 years without being eligible for parole. Six jurors recommended he serve 15 years on each charge before being eligible for parole. Four jurors did not make any recommendation.
Ultimately, Gropper will decide how much time Berry will serve in prison before he is eligible for parole.
The sentencing hearing is to take place in Victoria. A date for what is expected to be a three-day hearing will be set on Oct. 9.
Crown prosecutor Patrick Weir said he expects a number of victim impact statements. Gropper will also make her findings of fact on the case. Those discussions are expected to take two days.
The verdict means the nine men and three women of the jury decided that the Crown had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the 45-year-old Oak Bay father was the person who caused the girls’ deaths and that he intended to kill them.
They rejected Berry’s testimony that his daughters were killed by a “dark-skinned, dark-haired” man who attacked him and stabbed him in the throat because of his involvement with a loan shark.
The Crown told the jury the evidence was overwhelming that Berry is the only person who could have killed the girls. And he had motive — he was facing insurmountable debt, had no electricity service at his apartment, was about to be evicted and was so destitute he didn’t have food for the girls.
On Dec. 24, his sister warned him that he would lose his children if he had no electricity and no working fridge.
On Christmas Day, the two girls were found dead lying on their beds, still in their pajamas, in their father’s Beach Drive apartment. Chloe had multiple skull fractures after being hit on the head with her pink baseball bat. Both girls were also stabbed dozens of times.
Berry was found naked in a bathtub, close to death, after suffering stab wounds to the chest, neck and throat. He denied killing the girls and trying to take his own life.
The five-month trial was marked by frequent objections by both Crown and defence. Sometimes, the jury was excused after hearing only one question in the courtroom. There were also long delays over legal arguments where the jury was forced to retire to the jury room.
All the Crown witnesses were subjected to rigorous cross-examination by the defence team of Kevin McCullough and Ben Lynskey. Berry was grilled by prosecutor Patrick Weir for five days. Weir wound up his cross-examination with the chilling details of what he believed happened in Berry’s Beach Drive apartment on Christmas morning.
The trial was also marked by the emotional testimony a first responder, who felt sick and overwhelmed after finding the girls. A Saanich forensic identification officer testified that he felt anger and sadness and had to leave the apartment, swear out loud, then return to his job.
The jury was also heard Cotton’s distressing testimony. She described her increasingly frantic search for her daughters when Berry did not return them to her at noon on Christmas Day, as he was required to do by the courts. She testified about the last time she saw the girls. She was returning a favourite toy that had been left behind and the girls came out to meet her in the apartment building’s main lobby.
“They were so happy and Chloe was in a little dragon costume … And they asked how many nights until we see you,” Cotton testified.
She hugged them and told them she loved them.
The jury watched Cotton bury her face in her hands and weep, remembering the way two police officers sat her down in a chair and held on to her when they told her Chloe and Aubrey had been killed.