*Warning: This story contains disturbing content about a double murder trial.
At times emotional, at other times barely audible, 45-year-old Andrew Berry took the stand in his own defence in the Vancouver Law Courts Wednesday morning.
“Mr. Berry, did you kill Aubrey and Chloe?” asked defence lawyer Kevin McCullough.
“No, I did not,” Berry answered quietly.
“On December 25, did you try to commit suicide?”
“No, I did not.”
In Victoria, among those packed into the sixth floor courtroom where the trial is broadcast live was Sarah Cotton, mother of the two girls, watching the proceedings surrounded by family and friends.
Berry is accused of murdering his daughters, six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey at his Oak Bay apartment on Christmas Day, 2017. He is the defence counsel’s first witness after months of the Crown’s case, which saw law enforcement, first responders, blood spatter experts, family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances take the stand.
After his opening statements, McCullough asked Berry what kind of child Chloe had been and Berry, clean-shaven in a white and pale blue checked shirt with his hair parted neatly to one side, spoke quietly into the microphone.
“She was gregarious, outgoing. She would talk to anybody,” Berry’s voice broke with emotion and he paused. “She would talk to all kinds of people, no matter what they looked like. She wasn’t shy.”
It was the first of Berry’s many emotional outbursts when asked about the young girls on Wednesday. But answering questions about his gambling problem – winning, losing and borrowing sometimes thousands of dollars a week – seemed to come much easier.
Berry testified that he started gambling when he worked as a bellboy at Sutton Place – a downtown Vancouver hotel where he made up to $200 in cash each shift. He started playing baccarat – a comparative card game where players can bet on two hands, trying to get to a nine.
As he moved from job to job over the years – working as a trust accountant, market researcher and economist – his gambling habit persisted. Whether it was sports betting or baccarat, Berry was frequently borrowing money to support his habit. But he testified that at that time, he always paid those debts back.
A job at BC Ferries – based in a downtown Victoria office – connected Berry with Cotton. They started dating in February, 2009 and moved in together the next year. During his relationship with Cotton, Berry said his gambling slowed.
After having both girls, the relationship began to fall apart. The two split in 2013. And after a case in family court, Berry was granted 40 per cent custody of the girls. He and Cotton attempted a co-parenting relationship.
Berry said his gambling picked up again. He was spending roughly $3,000 a month on sports betting and began going to the casino more regularly.
In Fall, 2015 he won just under $100,000 from a complicated sports bet. A few days later he withdrew about $87,000 and within months had gambled away most of his earnings. Berry said after losing the $10,00 he has left in a baccarat game at the River Rock Casino, he borrowed $10,000 from a man named Paul.
He testified that he had known Paul from gambling back in Vancouver and described him as a Chinese man in his 50s. Berry quickly lost the $10,000 he borrowed and said the debt he owed Paul snowballed, collecting interest as he continued losing more and more money, unable to pay back his debt by agreed-upon dates.
He said by spring, 2017 he owed Paul $25,000 and had decided that he would pay the debt using his pension. But after quitting his job with BC Ferries to gain access to the money, he learned it would take longer than he thought to get the money.
This time, when Berry asked Paul for an extension, he said there was a caveat – he had to store a “bag” in his apartment.
“I wouldn’t have to do anything, I wouldn’t have to see it, I wouldn’t have to touch it,” Berry testified.
When McCullough asked him what he thought it might be, Berry said common sense told him it was something illegal. Specifically, he said he thought it was drugs.
Berry testified that in March, two young Chinese men – one with a sleeve of tattoos – came to his apartment and hid a bag in the top shelf of his closet. He claimed he never touched it or looked at it, and it was picked up again in April.
Over the following months Berry was able to scrounge together some money – some from his pension and some from gambling – but it was always too little, too late. The money was considered interest and the $25,000 debt was still owed. Berry claimed that when Paul asked him to hold another bag at his apartment, he said yes, but this time had to hand over his keys.
He said when Paul asked to take a picture of his licence – which had an incorrect address – Berry voluntarily told Paul his real, Beach Drive address, in order “to be honest.”
He claimed that he did not see or hear from Paul or the other men between the second bag drop in November and Christmas Day, 2017.
Berry told the court that after his arrest he requested to be put in protective custody in order to protect himself from Paul.
Berry’s testimony continues Thursday.