A Victoria woman convicted in the murder of her 18-month-old daughter is claiming a juror in the murder trial was biased against her.
In October 2017, Kaela Janine Mehl, 37, was found guilty of murdering her daughter, Charlotte Cunningham, and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
On Sept. 16, 2015, Mehl fed her daughter sleeping pills before smothering her. She also attempted to kill herself.
Mehl’s defence that she was not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder was rejected by the 12-person jury, which included four men and eight women.
However, Mehl alleges that throughout the trial one of the jurors made gestures of support or sympathy towards the family of her daughter’s father. Claiming the juror was biased, and her own lawyer ineffective for failing to bring the gestures to the attention of the judge, Mehl is seeking a new trial.
|Charlotte Cunningham was 18 months old when she was murdered by her mother Kaela Mehl in Victoria, B.C. on Sept. 16, 2015. Mehl was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. (Submitted photo)|
The alleged behaviour of the juror was not reflected on the trial’s record but has since been subject to a post-trial investigation that includes the observations of 22 people who would have witnessed the juror’s behaviour. At appeal, the court is expected to hear the observations of those witnesses which include the appellant, trial counsel, sheriffs and spectators seated in the courtroom gallery.
Evidence is also expected to include an affidavit sworn by the juror, who denies making gestures to the gallery.
The Crown applied for a report from the trial judge asking for any and all observations of jurors as well as the nature, timing and frequency of any gestures witnessed, but a three-justice panel dismissed that application, writing that, among other reasons, the inquiry may draw the trial judge into “factual controversy.”
The panel also worried the court would be seen as giving more weight to the trial judge’s interpretation of alleged gestures over other witnesses. They also wrote that if the judge hadn’t observed any gestures, nothing would be gained by seeking the order.
“The parties agree the appeal will likely proceed on the factual premise that, on one or more occasions, the juror gestured to spectators sitting in the gallery in proximity to the father of the deceased infant and his family,” they wrote. “The controversy on appeal will centre on the frequency with which those gestures were made and what they were intended to signal.”
Mehl’s appeal hearing is set for December.