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Victoria mother pleads guilty to second-degree murder of toddler

Kaela Mehl, who killed her daughter in September 2015 by administering a fatal dose of Zopiclone and smothering her, was previously convicted of first-degree murder but successfully appealed
Kaela Mehl, accompanied by her lawyer, leaves Victoria courthouse on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Image is a still from a video.) CHEK NEWS

A woman who killed her 18-month-old daughter by feeding her yogurt laced with a fatal dose of Zopiclone, then smothering her has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Kaela Mehl, who killed her daughter, Charlotte, in the early morning of Sept. 16, 2015, had been embroiled in a custody battle with her ex-husband.

At her sentencing hearing Monday morning in B.C. Supreme Court, Crown and defence submitted a joint submission suggesting a sentence of life imprisonment with no eligibility of parole for 10 years.

Mehl has already spent three years and nine months in prison, after she was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder in October 2017 and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years. She successfully appealed her conviction in July 2021 and was released on bail.

Now she must serve a further six years and two months in prison before being eligible for parole.

During the first trial, Mehl admitted she fed her daughter yogurt laced with a fatal dose of Zopiclone, then smothered her.

The jury heard that Mehl and husband, Daniel Cunningham, had become embroiled in an ugly, tumultuous custody battle after separating in May 2015. Their exchanges of the toddler took place at the Saanich police station.

The Crown’s theory was that Mehl was suddenly faced with the reality that she would have to share custody of her daughter with Cunningham and his family, whom she disliked, and she killed Charlotte to prevent them from having access to the little girl.

Mehl hired private investigators, surreptitiously recorded exchanges and followed the family to find evidence that the child wasn’t safe with them. At the same time, the courts were increasing the family’s access to the child.

On Sept. 15, 2015, losing hope in the custody battle for the child, Mehl decided to kill herself and her daughter because she did not want to leave the child behind to be raised by her ex-husband’s family.

Mehl began researching fatal doses of Zopiclone and started writing a suicide note. She fed the drugs to the child and smothered her. Then Mehl took what she believed was a fatal dose of the sleeping pills and finished writing her suicide note, which she emailed to the family of her ex-husband and the family lawyer.

The appeal court ordered a new trial after finding that Mehl’s lawyer failed to provide ­professional assistance, and that the behaviour of a juror who made sympathetic hand gestures toward the baby’s father and his family undermined trial fairness.

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