A 14-point list of boundaries and a request for an apology from her father-in-law fuelled tensions in the marriage of Kaela Mehl and Daniel Cunningham in the months leading up to the killing of their daughter, the jury heard Friday at the Victoria Law Courts.
Mehl is on trial for the first degree murder of 18-month-old Charlotte after mixing the sleeping pill Zopiclone with yogurt and then smothering her, before taking a fatal dose of Zopiclone herself on Sept. 16, 2015. Her former close friend and sister-in-law Ashley Cunningham took the stand Friday.
Ashley testified about Mehl’s relationship with her daughter. She said she took care of her and talked about her often.
“I thought she was a good mother,” she testified. “She was very much in love with (Charlotte).”
She spoke about about their friendship, their common interests in crafting, decorating, shopping, and Pinterest, and about problems they shared with their father-in-law Brent Cunningham.
“He can be very controlling,” she said on the stand. “I’ve heard him say things as well, to me about other people.”
Ashley said Mehl was concerned about Brent’s comments about her parenting techniques and her “post-pregnancy body,” and that she said she was uncomfortable with him being alone with Charlotte. This concern manifested in a list of “guidelines” drafted by Mehl and Ashely that included a request for an apology from Brent.
“We do not want parenting advice. We do not want our children to hear your opinions, and we want all our parenting decisions to be respected and followed. If this doesn’t happen, exposure to our children will be limited, and being left alone with our children will be out of the question,” said crown prosecutor Kimberly Henders Miller, reading from the document. “Stay out of our marriages. Do not ever again tell your kids not to tell their spouses [things]. You’re breeding an environment of deceit when you do this.”
Ashley testified the pair staged an intervention with their spouses and in-laws in April 2015 that ended poorly. She said Daniel was blindsided by the intervention, and at one point he and Mehl were seen screaming at each other. Brent sent the women an apology a few weeks later, but plans for a big birthday party for Daniel’s mother Harriet Cunningham made the situation worse.
“After we had all accepted the apology before Harriet’s birthday, Dan wanted to have a big family dinner and Kaela wanted it to be smaller,” Ashley said, describing the situation that triggered their separation.
On Friday, Daniel Cunningham was also cross-examined by the defence about his recollection of events around the time he changed the locks on his house after asking Mehl to leave in May 2015, concerned that she had stolen some of his belongings.
Mehl’s trial continues next week.