Kaela Mehl sobbed to the sound of her daughter crying on an audio recording played for the court Tuesday morning.
Mehl has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the September 2015 death of her 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte. But the jury will not have to decide if she killed her daughter. The court heard Monday she fed the child sleeping pills mixed into yogurt then later smothered her, which is undisputed, meaning the jury must determine whether Mehl deliberately planned to kill her daughter.
On Tuesday, the jury heard an interaction between Mehl, her ex-husband Daniel Cunningham, Mehl’s mother, Leanna Comis, and Charlotte; a snapshot of the tumultuous custody battle over the toddler in the weeks and months leading up to her death. The exchange, recorded by Mehl, was recovered by Const. Mark Knoop of VicPD’s tech crimes department, who was second to take the stand at the Victoria Law Courts.
“Get it in the God-damn truck,” Mehl yells, a child crying in the background. “Mumma,” the toddler whimpers, which prompted Mehl to weep and cough loudly in the courtroom.
The recording continues to play, the couple yell back and forth, seemingly about moving items.
“Not in front of the kid, okay?” Cunningham says after a heated exchange.
Some time passes, and Mehl says to her mother: “I’m sorry: I lost my cool.”
Comis tells her daughter that she and Cunningham are getting upset, and “this is definitely going to come back and bite you in the ass.”
The four-man, eight-woman jury heard further testimony from Cunningham today about the custody dispute.
His hands shook in the courtroom as he drank a cup of water on the stand before speaking about the heated, escalating events between himself and Mehl.
The court heard how, after the couple first separated, Cunningham was limited to supervised visits at Mehl’s home, who recorded the interactions with her phone. He was granted more access to his daughter over time, but was often followed and watched by Mehl and Comis.
He said several custody agreements were arranged that were never formalized, which included conditions for him to pay child support, visit Charlotte under supervision of his own parents, not consume alcohol, and take a breathalyzer test before and after picking up his daughter.
Cunningham told the court that when he picked up his daughter he was to take a breathalyzer test when he first arrived, and a second one five minutes later to confirm the reading, which he said always showed a zero alcohol level. Whomever accompanied him on the visits were also told they must take the test before Cunningham could see the child.
Also of note was Cunningham’s account of the day Mehl came to his home to take back her belongings. He said Mehl took wine glasses from the cupboard and smashed them in the sink, saying “this is my shit and I can break it if I want.” She also reportedly took plants from their pots, throwing them on the balcony. Cunningham admitted to also becoming agitated and raising his voice.
The Crown continues with their case this week, and the defence is expected to begin late next week.