Kaela Mehl smothered her young daughter with her hands to save her, the jury in the Victoria’s woman’s first-degree murder trial heard Wednesday afternoon.
Mehl, 34, is being tried in the death of her 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte Cunningham. Mehl’s treating psychiatrist, Dr. David Yaxley, who was qualified by the judge in the case as an expert witness, told the court about Mehl’s actions and mental state the night she killed Charlotte.
“She gave her daughter zopiclone, mixed in yogurt, but it has an incredibly bitter taste, and her daughter would not eat it,” Yaxley testified. “In Kaela’s state of mind at that time, she was determined that they were both going to die, and she told me that she used her hands; her daughter was feeling sleepy from the zopiclone, that she wasn’t going to die and leave her, and she smothered her with her hands.”
Yaxley, who as of Wednesday has had 60 sessions with Mehl, said he believes his client had an adjustment disorder at the time of Charlotte’s death.
He said that the night the toddler was killed, Mehl was in the process of drafting a response to a police request that she give ex-husband Daniel Cunningham a list of foods Charlotte was eating. At some point, Yaxley said, she started to “feel the bottom dropping out in her emotional state.”
Mehl started writing a note to herself about how she was feeling, how she felt about the Cunningham family; a note that later became the suicide letter she emailed to her ex-husband, his family and her friends.
Relaying his discussions with Mehl about that night, Yaxley said, “[she] described a state of hope dying, a strange sensation she has never felt before, of being different than her normal state of mind. Empty, and absolutely no hope … and suddenly she said, ‘I have to die, I can’t take it anymore.’”
While he testified, Mehl audibly wept.
The suicide note is a significant factor in Yaxley’s assessment of her mental state at the time she killed Charlotte, he said.
At the time of Charlotte’s death, he said, Mehl felt as if “she is dying. She cannot go on. She is finished. She just doesn’t have the strength to carry on and she is not going to leave Charlotte behind to be hurt by what she perceived to be malevolent forces.”
“I believe she was in a disordered state of mind, an adjustment disorder, and that her normal framework for forming … judgment, and her insight into the situation was severely disturbed, and this led to a sudden decision to solve the situation through killing Charlotte and herself.”
The Crown is scheduled to cross examine Dr. Yaxley on Thursday.