Dad who killed daughters must serve at least 22 years before parole

VICTORIA — A British Columbia father who committed the “vengeful” and “unspeakable” murders of his two daughters on Christmas Day in 2017 has been sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole for 22 years.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Gropper told Andrew Berry he carried out heinous crimes against his daughters, four-year-old Aubrey Berry and six-year-old Chloe Berry, as she sentenced him Thursday.

“The girls were killed in their own beds, in their own home, where they had every expectation to be safe,” Gropper said, reading out her decision. ”They could not have fought back. Chloe and Aubrey loved their father.”

A jury convicted Berry of second-degree murder in September. The office of Berry’s lawyer, Kevin McCullough, confirmed a notice of appeal for both the conviction and the sentence had already been filed with the court on Thursday.

The trial heard each girl had been stabbed dozens of times and Berry was found naked and unconscious in the bathtub of his Oak Bay apartment suffering from stab wounds to his neck and throat.

Gropper said the deaths of the girls were “unspeakable.”

A pink wooden baseball bat with the name Chloe written on it was found tangled in Chloe’s hair, while a kitchen knife was found on the floor near the bed where Aubrey was found, Gropper said.

Gropper said at the time of the murders, Berry, 45, was estranged from his partner, Sarah Cotton. He quit his job and spent his savings to support a gambling habit.

Berry was living in an apartment in the suburban Victoria community of Oak Bay. He was behind on his rent and his power had been cut off, the judge said.

Gropper said Berry knew he was close to losing access to his children, prompting him to write a suicide note to his sister blaming Cotton and his parents for his death. Instead, he killed his daughters and then stabbed his neck and chest in a failed suicide attempt, she said.

Berry told his trial he and the girls were attacked because he owed money to a loan shark.

“There is no evidence that anyone else was in his suite on Dec. 25, 2017,” said Gropper. “Mr. Berry caused all the injuries he sustained to himself.”

Gropper said the motive for the murders was “vengeful” anger towards Berry’s ex-partner, who he thought was going to end their joint custody agreement. “He was selfish and obsessed,” said Gropper.

Second-degree murder brings an automatic life sentence, but Gropper had to determine Berry’s parole eligibility. Gropper also ruled Berry will serve the sentences concurrently.

The court heard victim impact statements from 14 people, including the girls’ mother, Berry’s sister and parents.

Gropper said Cotton “cannot comprehend the egregious acts that took place” and is living a nightmare from which she cannot awake.

Cotton released a statement after the sentencing saying she respected the judge’s decision.

“Chloe and Aubrey lost their lives in the most brutal way at the hands of their father, I have lost the life that I loved and knew, and I do not believe that Andrew, who has shown no remorse and a complete disregard for the lives of our daughters, should ever get a second chance.”

Cotton also thanked police, the Crown prosecutors, the community of Oak Bay and first responders for their “strength, bravery, courage and sensitivity throughout this horrific tragedy.”

She criticized the legal system and the Ministry of Children and Family Development, accusing them of failing her family leading up to the girls’ deaths by not acting on concerns she raised about Berry when her children were in his care.

“I can only hope that changes will be made throughout the family law system so that tragedies such as ours do not happen again.”

Children’s Minister Katrine Conroy said in a statement the loss of a child is something no parent should have to endure, and she offered her deepest condolences to the family and others affected by the tragedy.

“While we cannot speak to specific cases, each and every time someone makes a child protection report to the ministry we look into the circumstances, assess the risk to the child or children and the parent’s ability to provide care.” the statement said. “Our government will also continue working on how we can improve the family justice system.”

Berry, unshaven and wearing red prison-issue clothes, expressed no emotion during the sentencing. He was asked Tuesday if he had anything to say to the court and said he did not.

His lawyer, Kevin McCullough told the sentencing hearing Berry maintains he did not kill the girls. Berry does take responsibility for putting his children in the situation he found himself, said McCullough.

Ray Bernoties, deputy chief with the Oak Bay police, said outside court that the deaths of the girls devastated residents.

“Two precious little girls were taken from our community. We’ll move on, together,” he said, holding back tears.

Crown prosecutor Patrick Weir said he’s satisfied Berry was held accountable for his actions. He said being eligible for parole does not guarantee he will be released after 22 years.

“That’s only when he’s going to eligible to apply for parole,” Weir said. “There’s no guarantee that he’ll ever get out of jail.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2019.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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