Andrew Berry takes the stand, denies killing his daughters

VANCOUVER — An Oak Bay man told a B.C. Supreme Court jury that he did not kill his two young daughters and did not try to commit suicide on Christmas Day 2017.

Andrew Berry, 45, has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder of his two daughters, six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey.

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In his opening statement, defence lawyer Kevin McCullough said Berry will testify he was brutally attacked in the bedroom of his Beach Drive apartment and that when he regained consciousness, he discovered Chloe and Aubrey had been killed.

The jury has already heard the children were stabbed to death in Berry’s Oak Bay apartment and that police found him injured in the tub.

Berry told the nine-man, three-woman jury he did not kill Chloe and Aubrey and, despite a suicide attempt in November 2017, did not try to kill himself the day they were killed.

McCullough said that while Berry had hit rock bottom the previous month, he realized he had too much to live for with his two little girls and tried to pull himself out of his despair and deal with his problems.

Berry is expected to testify that he and the two girls were having a “fantastic” Christmas, the lawyer said, going to the movies, the recreation centre and toy stores, and playing in the snow.

“He will tell you that true rock bottom was being in hospital knowing his children were dead and everyone clearly believed he was guilty of killing them,” McCullough said.

Testifying before a packed courtroom in Vancouver on Wednesday, Berry appeared composed, speaking quietly about his background, history of gambling, and relationship with his former partner Sarah Cotton and his daughters.

Berry described his “strong relationship” with his daughters.

“They were always happy to come by and spend time with me,” he said.

He smiled as he recalled their different personalities, their first words, their shared activities. He began to cry as he remembered their favourite books.

The court has previously heard that Berry and the children’s mother had a difficult relationship co-parenting the girls. The pair met while working at B.C. Ferries in 2008 and moved in together in 2010.

Sarah Cotton testified she contacted the Children’s Ministry because she was concerned Berry might have inappropriately touched Aubrey, but police found no evidence the touching was sexual or criminal in nature.

Berry testified that he was miffed by the unsubstantiated allegations, but said he never expressed anger toward Cotton.

Berry said his gambling problem began in 1997 when he was working as a bellman at Sutton Place Hotel in Vancouver. He began playing baccarat, with big wins and losses.

He also started borrowing money from loan sharks, but said he was always able to repay them.

His gambling continued even as he moved on to other jobs. When he lost, he was unable to pay his rent and had his utilities cut off, he said.

He started sports betting, and had a number of wins over $10,000. When River Rock casino opened in 2004, Berry testified, he was playing with bigger sums of money.

Again, he was borrowing from loan sharks, but he was always able to pay them back without incident.

By 2014, Berry said, he was spending $1,000 to $2,000 at River Rock Casino.

That figure increased to about $3,000 in the fall of 2015 for sports betting.

Berry won $99,999 in October 2015. He continued to gamble in 2016, but his money dwindled. By the end of the year, he had only $10,000 left, he testified.

In January 2017, Berry told the court, he took $10,000 to the River Rock casino but lost the money. That night, he borrowed $10,000 from Paul, a 50-year-old man he had known for years.

He said he promised to pay Paul $2,000 a week in interest. Berry said he didn’t know Paul’s last name.

Berry said he lost the $10,000 he borrowed from Paul and began trying to figure out how he would pay back the loan shark.

He told Paul he would resign and use his pension fund from B.C. Ferries, but it would take some time.

“When I got home a couple of days later, a rock came through my window and I got a call from Paul asking if I’d got his present,” Berry testified.

Paul was calling him every week. Berry told him he was trying to work it out. Paul was frustrated, Berry testified.

The debt increased to $25,000 to be paid by the end of June. Berry was asked to store a bag in his apartment. He said he agreed because he “was in a desperate place.”

Throughout 2017, Berry continued trying to repay Paul. He visited his sister twice, asking her for $25,000 from his pension fund to repay the debt, but she would only give him $10,000 the first time and $8,000 on his second visit. Because his sister is a Mountie, Berry felt unable to tell her about his predicament, he testified.

He continued to gamble and continued to lose. Berry was asked to store a second package in his apartment, but this time he had to give the loan sharks a spare set of keys to his apartment.

By November 2017, Berry was broke. He was not paying rent or hydro and was surviving on a shoestring budget.

The stress was incredible, and he began doing online searches about suicide.

“Tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury how you were feeling at that time,” McCullough said.

“I wanted to die,” Berry said, starting to cry.

“Mr. Berry, did you take any steps in that regard?” the lawyer asked.

“I did,” he said. “I tried to hang myself.”

Berry’s testimony will continue Thursday.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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