Minimum 22-year sentence for B.C. father convicted of murdering daughters on Christmas

Click to play video: 'Oak Bay father sentenced for murders of his two young daughter'
Oak Bay father sentenced for murders of his two young daughter
Andrew Berry, who killed his two young daughters on Christmas Day 2017, found out Thursday how long he'll have to spend in prison before he can apply for parole. Brad MacLeod reports – Dec 19, 2019

The Vancouver Island father convicted of murdering his two daughters on Christmas Day 2017 has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 22 years.

Andrew Berry was found guilty in September on two counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey Berry, whose bodies were discovered in his Oak Bay apartment.

He will serve his sentences for the two counts concurrently.

Berry sat in the packed courtroom with his head down the entire time as B.C. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Gropper delivered the sentence. An overflow room was made available for people, including first responders and Oak Bay’s mayor, who had come to witness the sentencing.

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Gropper described the crimes as “vicious,” and noted that the girls were killed in different rooms indicating the killing showed some forethought.

“I guess we’re satisfied, or I’m satisfied that he’s being held accountable for his actions,” said Crown prosecutor Patrick Weir.

“I can’t even imagine what it would have been like had the jury not come back with [a guilty verdict]. But I’m not sure ‘satisfied’ is the right word. Relieved that it’s finished and pleased that the community can perhaps begin to get some closure and some peace.”

Berry’s legal counsel confirmed they are filing an appeal of both the conviction and the sentence.

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Chloe and Aubrey’s mother Sarah Cotton issued a statement saying that no length of sentence would be long enough for Berry’s crimes, but that she supported 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,” said Cotton.

Cotton went on to thank police and prosecutors for their efforts, but slammed B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) who she said “failed us leading up to the girls’ deaths.”

“I did everything in my power to keep my children safe,” she said. “However my concerns made to MCFD about my children’s well-being in their father’s care and Andrew’s mental health fell on deaf ears.

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

In a statement, the MCFD extended their condolences to the family while promising to “continue working on how we can improve the family justice system.”

“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 ministry said.

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Following the sentencing, Oak Bay Police Dept. Chief Ray Bernoties choked back tears as he talked about the effect the case has had on the department and the community’s first responders.

“We extend our thoughts to Sarah and to all the victims,” he said. “We at the Oak Bay Police Department have not stopped caring about Sarah and really I can assure you never will.”

The department later took to social media to thank Crown counsel for their “hard work” in prosecuting the case.

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While Berry faced a mandatory life sentence behind bars for each charge, Justice Gropper had to decide whether he would be eligible for parole at the minimum of 10 years or the maximum of 25 years.

During an emotional sentencing hearing in Victoria that lasted two days, family and friends of the slain girls told the court and Berry how the crime has impacted their lives.

Cotton spoke through tears about the depression and anxiety she has faced since losing her daughters, who she said “were the centre of our world.”

Click to play video: 'Mother describes devastating loss of daughters'
Mother describes devastating loss of daughters

“There was so much light and joy in our house, and now it has all gone silent,“ the mother told court on Monday.

“To try to understand how the father of my children is capable of doing such a horrific and unimaginable act to his own daughters is inconceivable. All they ever did was love him.”

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Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch also spoke Monday about the trauma that police and fire crews who responded to the crime scene have experienced.

Berry was found lying in his bathtub with several stab wounds. Chloe and Aubrey were found stabbed to death in their beds.

The judge rejected the story that Berry and his defence provided during the months-long trial, in which they argued the girls had been killed by associates of a loan shark to whom Berry owed money. They allege the killers assaulted Berry and left him to die before fleeing the scene.

Gropper described Berry’s testimony as “unbelievable” and told the court it was “unfathomable” that a henchman for a loan shark named Paul came into the apartment and killed the two girls.

Prosecutors countered that Berry, who admitted during testimony that he had a crippling gambling problem, had grown depressed over mounting debt and fears he would lose partial custody of his daughters.

The Crown compared defence’s case to “a plot from a low-budget movie,” pointing out DNA from a fourth person was never found in Berry’s apartment.

They instead alleged Berry killed the girls in the morning then turned the knife on himself with the intention of dying.

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Click to play video: 'Jury returns verdict in Andrew Berry trial'
Jury returns verdict in Andrew Berry trial

Gropper also agreed with Crown lawyer Clare Jennings’ assessment of Berry’s motivation for killing his daughters.

“The motivation stemmed in part due to his animosity towards Sarah Cotton,” Jennings told the court.

Click to play video: 'Judge charges jury in Andrew Berry trial'
Judge charges jury in Andrew Berry trial

Shortly before the killings, a custody dispute dating back to 2013 had been mostly resolved, with a judge granting Berry parental visits, including the overnight one on Christmas Eve.

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Police discovered Berry and the girls’ bodies during a welfare check at his apartment after Cotton reported he was late dropping their daughters off at her home in the afternoon as scheduled.

— With files from Global News’ Richard Zussman and Brad MacLeod

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