Victoria mom charged with murder of toddler is granted spousal-support hearing

VANCOUVER — The husband of a Victoria woman accused of murdering their toddler has lost a bid to have her application for spousal support thrown out of court.

In April 2016, Kaela Janine Mehl was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of the couple’s 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte, in September 2015.

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Mehl and her husband, Daniel Cunningham, who began living together in January 2010 and were married in November 2011, separated in May 2015, with Mehl and the little girl moving from the home where the family had been living.

Victoria police were called to a house on Vista Heights near Cook Street about 6 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2015. When they entered, they found Mehl, then 32, in medical distress and her daughter without a pulse.

Despite cardiopulmonary resuscitation by police and paramedics, the child could not be saved.

In January 2017, Mehl filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court seeking spousal support from Cunningham and an interest in what had been the family home on Hawkes Avenue in Saanich.

Cunningham responded by seeking an order to have Mehl’s claims dismissed before the trial in the family-law case, which is scheduled for February 2018.

His lawyer accepted that the conduct of the parties was irrelevant to a claim of spousal support, but cited several prior civil-court cases where a spouse who had attempted to murder his or her partner had been denied support due to the extraordinary circumstances.

In an affidavit filed dated on Jan. 31 and cited in the court ruling in the civil case, Cunningham claimed that his wife had taken an overdose of medication and had given the medication to their daughter, resulting in her death. Mehl then remained in hospital for several months, according to the affidavit.

In the court ruling, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Voith noted that Mehl did not “expressly” dispute the husband’s allegations and had accepted that she was hospitalized in “mental-health departments” for about six months after September 2015.

The accused, however, argued that her impending criminal trial, which is scheduled for September, inhibited her ability to lead evidence she might otherwise require on the issue of spousal support, noted the judge.

In dismissing Cunningham’s application, the judge said that he did not have evidence or facts, even on the civil burden of proof, to blame the girl’s death on Mehl. Voith added that there were, unfortunately, many circumstances where a child dies after being left in the care of a parent.

“Such tragedies may arise, directly or indirectly, because a parent is mentally unwell,” the judge said. “In this case there is some evidence, without my making any finding in this regard, that Ms. Mehl suffered from and continues to suffer from some mental illness.

“I do not consider that it would be appropriate to deny one parent and spouse spousal support without a better and more precise understanding of the circumstances that led to the death of the parties’ child.”

Voith also dismissed Cunningham’s application to throw out Mehl’s bid for an interest in the property.

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