Kaela Mehl, on trial for first-degree murder in the 2015 death of her 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte, stands outside the Victoria courtroom. (Lauren Boothby/VICTORIA NEWS)

MURDER TRIAL: Victoria woman hired P.I. during custody battle

Kaela Mehl didn’t want to share her daughter with ex-husband, jury hears

Kaela Mehl hired private investigators who followed her ex-husband Daniel Cunningham, his family, and a woman she saw leaving his home, the jury in Mehl’s first-degree murder trial heard Tuesday.

The Victoria woman is charged in the death of her 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte Cunningham. She has admitted to causing the girl’s death by feeding her the sleeping pill Zopiclone mixed in yogurt and smothering her.

Dana Simard, a marriage counsellor who met with Mehl and her ex-husband in early 2015, took the stand Tuesday morning. Simard testified that Mehl told her she recorded interactions and hired a private investigator who followed Cunningham and his family to see if he was breaching court orders relating to custody of Charlotte.

RELATED: Victoria woman had mental disorder when she killed daughter: psychiatrist

Simard described a contentious relationship between “two strong-willed individuals.” In the couple’s joint meetings, Simard said, Cunningham seemed sad and Mehl seemed angry and defensive. The counsellor later saw Mehl in private sessions after the couple separated.

On cross-examination, Crown lawyer Lorne Phibbs read back Simard’s notes from a one-on-one session with Mehl to confirm their accuracy.

“I didn’t have a child to share her, to miss parts of her life,” Mehl is quoted as saying about the custody split. “What did I do to be punished by Dan for him to take her from me?”

In the course of Simard’s testimony Tuesday, she paused to read her notes and consider her answers.

Phibbs questioned her about comments Mehl made regarding surveilling her ex-husband, his family, and a woman seen leaving his home, and hiring a private investigator.

“I sat outside waiting to follow her,” Mehl is quoted as saying. “Dan saw me follow [her] … and his face: he was going to shit bricks.”

“I know her name (Facebook) and now my P.I. is looking into it,” Phibbs continued from the councillor’s notes.

On redirect, defence lawyer Jeremy Mills asked Simard whether surveillance was the right term to describe Mehl’s actions. Simard characterized them as “a form of surveillance” and also “very concerned observing.”

Mills also asked Simard whether Mehl gave reasons for being concerned about Cunningham being with their daughter.

Simard said Mehl told her she was concerned over Cunningham’s use of alcohol and drinking around Charlotte. “I observed a significant amount of worry and sadness and confusion, and … feeling thwarted, feeling stuck and very distressed,” Simard said.

The defense’s case continues Wednesday.

lauren.boothby@vicnews.com

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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