Defence lawyer Jeremy Mills and client Kaela Mehl confer outside the Victoria law courts. Closing arguments happened Tuesday in Mehl’s first-degree murder trial in the death of her daughter, Charlotte Cunningham. (Lauren Boothby/VICTORIA NEWS)

MURDER TRIAL: Jury must determine degree of planning in killing of toddler

Court hears closing submissions from Crown and defence lawyers Tuesday

After three weeks in court, the jury in Kaela Mehl’s murder trial will begin deliberating to determine her fate.

The four-man, eight-woman Victoria jury heard closing submissions from the defence and Crown lawyers Tuesday morning, followed by instructions from Justice Joyce DeWitt-Van Oosten. They will decide whether Mehl, 34, is guilty of first degree murder in the Sept. 16, 2015 death of her 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte Cunningham.

DeWitt-Van Oosten told the jury they must consider four things: if Mehl caused unlawful harm to Charlotte; if she caused Charlotte’s death; if she intended to cause Charlotte’s death, or intended to cause bodily harm she knew could have led to her death, and if the killing was both planned and deliberate.

The jury may convict her of first degree murder, second degree murder or manslaughter, depending on how they answer those questions.

In his closing statements, defence lawyer Jeremy Mills reminded the jury Mehl does not dispute the fact she caused the death of her daughter by feeding her the sleeping pill zopiclone mixed in yogurt, then smothered her. He asked jurors to recall the testimonies of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Shabehram Lohrasbe and Mehl’s regular psychiatrist, Dr. David Yaxley.

“Both doctors shared this view, that at the time of this act, Miss Mehl’s intent-forming processes were significantly compromised,” Mills said, noting Yaxley testified that “the bottom fell out” of Mehl’s mental state the night Charlotte died.

Prosecutor Kimberly Henders Miller argued that Mehl decided to kill herself because she was tired of fighting a losing custody battle, and killed Charlotte to prevent her ex-husband Daniel Cunningham and his family from getting custody of the child.

Henders Miller played audio recordings heard previously in the trial for the jury, taken by Mehl of her interactions with Cunningham and his family.

“[Charlotte] needs to go home and she needs to be with me,” Mehl said in the recording.

The prosecutor said Mehl referred to herself as Charlotte’s primary caregiver, and that Mehl grew concerned she was losing control over the child’s life. “I would suggest that her concerns were keeping her home and her child under her control.

“Her words were [to Cunningham]: ‘she’s my life. why would you take her away from me?’”

Mehl planned to kill Charlotte late on Sept. 15, Henders Miller argued – the child was determined to have died in the early hours of Sept. 16. Despite the short time frame, a plan was created nonetheless, she said.

The jury is expected to return a verdict this week.

Read Victoria News’ coverage of the Kaela Mehl murder trial

Oct. 4: Kaela Mehl guilty of first degree murder, sentenced to life in prison

Oct. 4: First degree murder conviction requires killing be planned and deliberate

Oct. 3: Jury must determine degree of planning in killing of toddler

Sept 28: Crown challenges psychiatrist as defence wraps in Mehl murder case

Sept: 27: Drafted suicide note revealed Mehl’s mental state: psychiatrist

Sept: 26: Victoria woman hired P.I. during custody battle

Sept. 21: Victoria woman had a mental disorder when she killed daughter: psychiatrist

Sept. 19: First responders describe gruesome Victoria crime scene to jury

Sept. 16: Mehl murder trial: “She was a good mother”

Sept. 14: Emotional day in Kaela Mehl trial as defendant’s suicide email read aloud

Sept. 13: Saanich police cautioned couple night before toddler was found dead

Sept. 12: Victoria mom charged with toddler’s murder weeps listening to recording of daughter crying

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