WARNING: This story contains disturbing details about a double murder trial.
The last time Sarah Cotton saw her two daughters – Chloe, 6, and Aubrey, 4 – was on the morning of Dec. 22, 2017.
Cotton took the stand on Monday morning to testify in the trial of her ex-partner, Andrew Berry, who is charged with the murder of their two daughters.
On that day Cotton was dropping off Lamby, Chloe’s favourite toy at Berry’s apartment in Greater Victoria. She had tapped on the window of the first-floor Oak Bay apartment and recalled the girls’ faces popping up through the blinds, smiling, before they greeted her.
“Chloe had a dragon costume on, it had a tail,” Cotton said, her voice cracking. “I told them that I loved them and I hugged them.”
Cotton noticed that the lights were still out.
The afternoon before, when driving by Berry’s place a few hours before dropping the girls off, Cotton had seen the lights were out. She had guessed that Berry wasn’t home before Chloe corrected her.
“‘Oh no, he’s there,’” Cotton recalled Chloe saying. “We use flashlights, it’s just like camping.”
Cotton was concerned about the hydro situation but continued to drop the girls off on the evening of Dec. 21, expecting to have them dropped off at her place at noon on Dec. 25. She did not speak with Berry about the hydro issues in front of the girls, stating that she “wanted to keep the peace for Christmas,” but was “concerned for their well-being.”
She sent several texts and emails to Berry about figuring out different arrangements until his power was restored, stating a couple of days for the girls was fine but that they shouldn’t be in the dark and without heat for long. Berry did not respond.
When she dropped the stuffed animal off at Berry’s home the next day, she urged him to read her emails.
“He looked very distant, very far away like he was thinking about something when I asked him to check the email,” Cotton said.
Cotton used an app to be notified when Berry read her emails. He read an initial one sent on Dec. 21, but did not read subsequent ones.
On the morning of Dec. 25, Cotton made sure stockings were stuffed and that presents were under the tree. She was expecting the girls at noon and Berry’s parents, Brenda and Malcolm Berry, to come at 2 p.m.
When Berry did not arrive, she called and texted him with no response before reaching out to his sister, who also called him.
By 2 p.m. Berry’s parents had arrived at Cotton’s home. Cotton and Brenda went over to Berry’s apartment while Malcolm stayed home in case the girls showed up.
This time when Cotton tapped the window, no one responded. They searched surrounding parks and recreation centres, and left several voice mails and text messages with Berry. They went back to Berry’s apartment and buzzed his neighbour who reported hearing the girls up that morning around 8 a.m.
After several hours, they went to the Oak Bay Police Station.
Cotton and Brenda waited in the lobby. After several hours, they noticed Malcolm was brought in, and that the Saanich Police Department was also on scene.
“I knew at this point it wasn’t good,” Cotton said.
A police officer asked Cotton to come into the chief’s office, where they sat her in a chair. Two officers were on either side of Cotton.
“They held me so tightly,” Cotton said. “They told me that Chloe and Aubrey had been injured, and I thought okay, but they’re alive, and then they said, ‘They’re dead.’”
Cotton sobbed, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Then I screamed like never before. I was in such shock.”
After a lunch break, Cotton’s time on the stand continued with cross examination from Andrew Berry’s defence counsel Kevin McCullough, who read the court text and email exchanges between the parents, who had split in 2013.
McCullough said the messages – arranging pickups, drop-offs, swim gear and field trip preparations – demonstrated a “good co-parenting relationship.”
McCullough read from emails where Cotton and Berry provided updates on the kids, letting one another know of any health or sleeping issues that arose during their time with them, as well as detailing activities and arranging future plans.
In one email, Cotton outlined how the heat impacted the girls’ sleep, how she took them to play at the water park and asked if Berry could respond to an invitation to a birthday party that took place during his weekend with them.
Cotton told the courtroom that she “was filling him in on their lives while he wasn’t with them.”
Asked again if there was a good co-parenting relationship between the two, Cotton responded: “I felt like it was in the best interest of the girls to communicate as much as possible.”
She said, of her communications with Berry: “I was trying my best.”
“Was Mr. Berry trying his best?” McCullough asked.
“I don’t know, you would have to ask him.”
With files from Nina Grossman.
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