Kaela Janine Mehl, 34, has been found guilty of first degree murder in the Sept. 16, 2015 killing of her 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte Cunningham, and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Mehl killed her daughter by feeding her the sleeping pill zopiclone mixed in yogurt, then smothered her. She also attempted to kill herself.
The four-man, eight-woman jury refused the Victoria woman’s defence that she was not criminally responsible for her actions on account of a mental disorder (NCR-MD). Justice Joyce DeWitt-Van Oosten previously told the jury they could find Mehl guilty of first degree murder, second degree murder, or manslaughter. The jury returned with the final verdict that afternoon, shortly after receiving instructions from the judge on how to address the NCR-MD defence.
Charlotte’s father, Dan Cunningham, said he was satisfied with the verdict. Now, he added, he can move forward with his life with his girlfriend Jen Fouracres, who is expecting their child in April 2018.
“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of that little girl,” the grieving father said, his body trembling.
Cunningham read a victim impact statement after sentencing in a packed courtroom at the Victoria Law Courts. Mehl’s family and friends left the court room before he began. He said his diamond ring made with Charlotte’s ashes, a star named after her, tattoos, and photos are all he has left of his daughter. He said he felt it was important his statement be read into the court record so he could read it to Mehl. He said he wanted her to know how much he loved his daughter, even though she may think he does not.
“Charlotte Elizabeth Cunningham was my entire world. You took her from me,” he said. “I loved her from the moment she was conceived to this day.”
Cunningham also said he hopes similar incidents like this can be avoided by improving the family law system to prevent custody battles from ending badly.
Mehl’s defense lawyers issued a statement following the verdict.
“[The] result can’t bring that little girl back,” it said.
“To the extent this may illuminate some of the difficulties associated with an adversarial family law process, Miss Mehl will take some comfort. Of course we will consider the verdict as well as any further options that may remain open to us.”
The jury originally returned a guilty verdict to the charges of first degree murder around noon Wednesday, but they were sequestered until 2:00 p.m. at which time Mehl’s entered a NCR-MD defence. The defence and Crown lawyers gave closing submissions again, this time focusing on whether or not the accused suffered from a mental disorder at the time she committed first degree murder, and the judge instructed the jury on how to apply the law.
The jury returned with their final verdict around 4:30 p.m., only 30 minutes after the judge’s final instructions.
Read Victoria News’ previous coverage of the Kaela Mehl murder trial