VICTORIA -- A mother of two murdered girls says her life has become a living nightmare from which she never awakes.

Sarah Cotton told a B.C. Supreme Court sentencing hearing for her former partner on Tuesday that she has “profound pain and sadness.”

“I will never again have that contented feeling of knowing my children are fast asleep in their beds,” said Cotton, who explained how she battles depression, anxiety, exhaustion and insomnia.

A jury found the father of the girls, Andrew Berry, guilty of two charges of second-degree murder in September. Six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey were murdered Christmas Day two years ago in their father's Oak Bay apartment.

The court is expected to hear 17 witness impact statements during the four-day sentencing hearing for Berry, 45, who sat in the prisoner's box with his head bowed as his former partner read her statement.

“Their hearts were so pure,” she told the court. “Their hearts were so full of love.”

The trial heard each girl had been stabbed dozens of times and left on their beds in Berry's suburban Victoria apartment. He was found unconscious in the bathtub, suffering stab wounds to his neck and throat.

Berry testified he was attacked because he owed money to a loan shark. But the Crown argued the motive for the murders was Berry's anger towards his estranged partner, who he believed planned to seek an end to their joint custody of the girls.

Cotton said testifying at the trial was “unbearable and vile.” She said the trial and ongoing media reports about the murders traumatize her daily.

“My identity is gone,” Cotton said. “I am no longer the mother who takes her children to school every day. I feel such an emptiness without them.”

Sara Healing told the court her family was often together with Cotton and her daughters including for Halloween, birthdays and holidays.

“Losing the girls has been the singular worst event in my family's life and has left a hole so huge and so gaping that describing it and the extent of its impact seems impossible,” she told the court.

She said the deaths have increased her level of anxiety and changed her view of the world.

“I have random intrusive thoughts on a regular basis, thoughts of something terrible happening and both my children dying,” Healing said.

She said telling her son about the deaths of Chloe and Aubrey was one of the hardest moments of her life.

“How do you tell a four-year-old that two of his favourite and most loved people are dead?”

Second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, but parole eligibility can be set between 10 and 25 years.

The judge must also decide if sentences for multiple counts of murder should be served consecutively or concurrently.

Following the verdict in September, six of 12 jurors recommended Berry serve 15 years, consecutively, before he is eligible for parole on each count; two jurors called for 10 years to be served concurrently; and four jurors made no recommendation.

Crown counsel Patrick Weir told the court he is seeking 21 to 24 years to be served concurrently before Berry is eligible to apply for parole.

“Neither of these children could have fought back or defended themselves against these horrific attacks,” he said. “They were utterly defenceless. These children should have been protected by their father, not murdered by him.”

Weir said Berry has shown no remorse and the murders warrant strong denunciation by the court.

“The gravity of the crime really cannot be overstated.”

This story by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2019.

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