Victoria mother's conviction for murdering baby quashed due to juror misconduct
The B.C. Court of Appeal has quashed a first-degree murder conviction against a Victoria woman in the death of her baby due to the incompetence of her lawyers and the misconduct of a juror.
The court has ordered a new trial for Kaela Janine Mehl, who was found guilty of murdering her 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte, in September 2015.
The Crown argued at trial that Mehl killed Charlotte in order to prevent her estranged husband and his family from having custody of the girl.
Mehl confessed at trial to feeding her daughter a lethal dose of Zopiclone, a prescription sleeping pill, mixed with yoghurt.
Mehl’s defence lawyers argued she was in a profoundly disordered mental state at the time of the offence and was therefore not responsible for her actions.
The jury dismissed the Victoria woman’s bid to be found not criminally responsible for her daughter’s death and found her guilty in October 2017.
The trial judge imposed a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
Mehl then filed an appeal of the conviction, arguing her legal representation had been ineffective and that the conduct of a juror led to a reasonable apprehension of bias and denial of justice.
The appeal court ruled on June 30 that the juror in question had smiled, winked and made hand gestures – “tapping or pumping a closed fist over their heart” – at the side of the courtroom where the father’s family had been sitting.
The juror’s conduct was witnessed by Mehl’s supporters in the courtroom and was brought to the attention of her lawyer, who informed the court sheriffs but not the judge.
The three-judge appeal panel found the juror’s behaviour occurred during critical portions of the trial and gave rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias.
“That a juror would smile and wink at the deceased child’s paternal family and repeat the hand gesture after the conclusion of the evidence but before the completion of the closing addresses of counsel would, in our view, shock and offend a reasonable and objective person,” the panel wrote in its decisions. “Indeed, it astounded those who saw it.”
The appeal court also found Mehl’s legal counsel failed to provide reasonable assistance, resulting in an unfair trial.
“It also leads us to the conclusion that a miscarriage of justice has been established,” the panel wrote. “For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that a new trial is also required on this ground.”