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 outcome of the trial. 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,” he said, his body trembling.
Cunningham read a victim impact statement after sentencing in a packed courtroom at the Victoria Law Courts. He said his diamond ring made with Charlotte’s ashes, a star named after his daughter, and photos are all he has left of her. He said he felt it was important the 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 in the statement. “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.”
Read Victoria News’ coverage of the Kaela Mehl murder trial