Mother of murdered girls testifies about tense relationship with ex-partner

Dropping her two young daughters at their father’s dark Oak Bay apartment after learning his power had been cut off “is the biggest regret I have in my life,” Sarah Cotton testified through tears Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.

Cotton was on the stand for the second day at the trial of her former partner, Andrew Berry, who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the deaths of his daughters, six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey, on Christmas Day 2017.

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Defence lawyer Kevin McCullough suggested Cotton knew Berry didn’t have any power well before she dropped the girls off at his Beach Drive apartment on Dec. 21.

Cotton denied learning about it earlier. She testified that she learned the power was off when she saw the dark apartment that evening and Chloe told her they used flashlights.

“And yet you just dropped them off,” said McCullough.

The defence lawyer suggested Cotton created the story to try to get back at Berry after he offered to let her have the children on her birthday.

“No,” Cotton replied.

“Then you’re emailing about [Chloe’s toy] Lamby half an hour later,” he said.

“I needed time to figure out what to do about the situation,” said Cotton, wiping away tears.

Cotton said she believed Berry offered to let her keep the girls overnight on Dec. 21, her birthday, when he was scheduled to have them, so she wouldn’t find out he didn’t have electricity.

During lengthy cross-examination, which will continue today, McCullough took Cotton through an exchange of emails and texts that took place after a B.C. Supreme Court decision in May 2017 gave Berry 40 per cent custody of the children.

The emails from Cotton are polite and detailed, asking about pickups and drop-offs and letting Berry know about the girls’ concerts, activities and visits to the doctor.

Typically, Berry did not reply by email but by phone or voicemail, Cotton testified.

McCullough suggested that judging from the emails and texts, co-parenting was going well and was civil, normal and reasonable. But Cotton looked skeptical and countered that she was trying her best.

When McCullough repeatedly suggested Cotton and Berry had face-to-face conversations about their parenting responsibilities, Cotton emphatically denied that happened.

“Andrew would not communicate with me face to face,” she testified.

“We didn’t communicate and that’s why Chloe and Aubrey got to where they got to,” she said, on the verge of tears.

The parents did not interact at a parent-teacher interview at Aubrey’s school, Cotton testified. They waited in separate rooms, she said.

After the meeting, Berry walked ahead of her down the hall.

McCullough asked Cotton about an email she sent Berry in December suggesting the girls go to children’s yoga. He asked if the girls had gone to the class.

“No, it started in 2018 after they died,” she said tearfully.

Cotton’s voice trembled as she read out an email telling Berry that Chloe needed help with words such as reindeer, Christmas and frosty for an upcoming spelling quiz.

She said she was upset and shocked by a B.C. Supreme Court child-custody decision. “Yes, I was very concerned about the schedule. It was way too much back and forth [for the girls],” she said.

In May of 2017, court heard, Cotton sent an email to a close friend about Berry’s gambling debts. “I hate to ask you this, but I’m wondering if you could do a bit of sleuthing for me,” Cotton wrote in the 6:30 a.m. email to Christine Pilling. “Andrew emailed me on Friday and said he couldn’t take the girls that night as he had a stomach flu …

“My gut tells me he’s in a very bad place and may have people after him re: gambling debts but at least he had the brains to not take the girls this weekend. Is there a way you can see if he’s at work today? He said he went home sick on Friday, but who knows. I understand you’re busy but if it’s easy to find out. I would be so appreciative.”

Cotton testified that Berry’s parents were concerned about his gambling. Berry’s mother sent her an email saying they’d had “quite a time with him, but she was pretty vague because she did not want to betray his trust.”

Cotton said she also worried by a hole in Berry’s front window that hadn’t been fixed for a long time.

“It looked like a baseball had gone through it. I was worried someone was sending a message to the house,” she testified.

Last week, the jury heard that Berry gambled away about $20,700 in the year before his two young daughters were killed. B.C. Lottery records show Berry engaged in significant online gambling between Dec. 28, 2016, and December 2017. By Dec. 10, 2017, there was no money in his online lottery account.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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