Lawyer for B.C. father charged with killing children accuses mother of lying

VANCOUVER — A mother wept at her estranged husband's trial for the murder of their daughters when a defence lawyer accused her of lying about when she learned the man's electricity had been shut off.

Sarah Cotton has testified at the B.C. Supreme Court trial that before she dropped off the girls at Andrew Berry's apartment in Oak Bay, B.C., on Dec. 21, 2017, she stopped by and noticed it was dark. Her daughter Chloe, 6, said they used flashlights and it was like "camping."

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This was the first time she realized he might not have power, she said, but she didn't mention it when she dropped off Chloe and Aubrey, 4, because she didn't want to "provoke" him. She instead sent him two emails to which he didn't reply.

She also said that Dec. 21 is her birthday and that morning, Berry emailed her to ask if she wanted to keep the girls overnight. Cotton said it was an "unusual" offer and she wished he'd given her more notice as she had plans.

Defence lawyer Kevin McCullough questioned on Tuesday why she didn't change her mind and take him up on the offer to keep the girls overnight, after she learned he had no power in his apartment.

"That is the biggest regret I'll ever have in my life," she said, taking her glasses off and sobbing into her hands.

Cotton went to police on Dec. 25 when Berry failed to return the girls as scheduled. Officers entered his suite and found the girls dead with stab wounds and Berry with a black eye and cuts on his chest and neck.

The Crown alleges he stabbed the girls dozens of times before attempting to kill himself. Berry has pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree murder.

McCullough accused Cotton of lying about only learning on Dec. 21 that Berry had no electricity. He said she knew "full well" for quite some time and she was also fabricating her concern about provoking him.

"I'm going to suggest you created this story because you wanted to offset Mr. Berry's offer to you to have the children on your birthday. Isn't that what you've done?" he asked.

"No," she replied through tears.

Earlier Tuesday, McCullough asked if Cotton was "very upset" with the custody decision in May 2017 that allowed Berry access to their daughters 40 per cent of the time and she replied that she was.

"I was also very concerned about the schedule that was put in place for them because it was too much back and forth," Cotton told the jury.

The court heard the couple met while working at BC Ferries and began dating in 2009. They were living with their two young daughters as common-law spouses in September 2013 when Cotton called police alleging Berry had assaulted her.

An assault charge against him did not proceed and he instead signed a peace bond that meant he was to have no contact with Cotton except in relation to their daughters, the court heard.

Cotton later called the Children's Ministry twice saying that Berry had sexually touched Aubrey, but police found no evidence the touching was sexual or criminal.

Cotton rejected McCullough's characterization of the incidents as her making "allegations" of sexual touching.

"I wouldn't say I made allegations. I reported what my daughter told me because I had the responsibility to," she said.

McCullough read texts and emails between the parents from June through December 2017 that he said suggested co-parenting was going "very well" and that they were regularly speaking in person.

Cotton repeatedly disputed his assertions, saying all their communication took place in text messages, emails and brief phone calls.

"Andrew would not communicate with me face to face," she said.

The messages focused on parenting matters such as picking up and dropping off the girls, swimming lessons, social events, occasional illnesses and school lunches.

Cotton said it was difficult to read into text messages and the exchanges were not "pleasant," but were "amicable" at one point. She also said some messages and calls appeared to be missing from the court's record.

She said he regularly dropped off the children late and had cancelled his parenting time on several occasions. He also rarely provided details of his time with the girls, she said, in contrast with her comprehensive messages.

Cotton broke down in tears as the correspondence neared the Christmas holidays in 2017, the last time she saw the girls alive.

In response to McCullough's suggestion that they were "co-parenting very well," Cotton replied simply, "We were co-parenting."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

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