Mother of two slain children sobbing and ‘almost in shock,’ officer tells trial

Advisory: This story has graphic details about a murder trial.

The mother of two young children who had been killed was at times in a “robotic” state and at times sobbing and emotional after the bodies of her girls were discovered in their father’s home, a police officer testified Tuesday.

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Saanich police Det. Const. Kathleen Murphy made the observations about Sarah Cotton during testimony at the trial of Cotton’s estranged husband, Andrew Berry, 45, who has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder of their two children, Chloe Berry, 6, and Aubrey Berry, 4.

Murphy told a B.C. Supreme Court jury that she was called out on the evening of Christmas Day 2017 after a report that there were two dead children in an apartment in Oak Bay. The trial has heard that earlier that day police were called to the scene and made the grisly discovery. Berry was discovered injured in the bathtub of his apartment. The Crown’s theory is that he stabbed the girls and inflicted wounds on himself.

In the early-morning hours of Dec. 26, Murphy said, she was asked to interview Cotton, who had contacted police when the two children were late in being returned to her after visiting with their father for the holidays.

“Are you able to describe her demeanour at that time?” asked Crown counsel Clare Jennings.

“It was somewhat robotic but very emotional at times as well,” said Murphy, who was seconded as an investigator with the Vancouver Island Major Crime Unit at the time of the slayings. “Very, I would say almost in shock, kind of. You could tell that her mind was racing, she was kind of all over the place.”

Defence lawyer Kevin McCullough objected to Murphy’s comments and the trial judge, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Gropper, excused the jury from the courtroom. Details of what took place in the absence of the jury cannot be reported due to a publication ban that is routinely imposed in such situations. The trial has seen repeated objections from both the defence and the Crown that have resulted in the jury being asked to leave the courtroom.

After the jury returned, Jennings asked Murphy whether Cotton, who is expected to testify later in the trial, was focused or jumping around in her topics of conversation.

McCullough stood to object to the question, but the judge overruled him and allowed the question.

“In my opinion, she was jumping around from topic to topic,” Murphy said.

Jennings asked Murphy about the kinds of emotions that Cotton was showing during the interview.

“Sobbing, extremely upset,” said Murphy. “Then she would change to very robotic. You could just tell it was extremely difficult.”

McCullough objected again, but Jennings said she was moving on in her questioning.

Murphy said she also spoke to Cotton about the mother’s cellphone and laptop, with the mother agreeing to give up the phone since she had had conversations with the accused on that phone.

The officer also testified about being asked to go to Victoria General Hospital, where Berry was taken for treatment of his injuries. She said her role was to determine whether Berry was dead or alive.

Under cross-examination, Murphy was asked by McCullough whether she had asked Cotton if she had anything to do with harming Berry, a question that resulted in an objection from Jennings, and the jury being excused again from the courtroom.

The trial continues.

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