A Victoria woman has won her appeal against a court decision that convicted her of murdering her 18-month-old daughter.
In October 2017, Kaela Mehl was found guilty of murdering Charlotte Cunningham by feeding her a lethal amount of sleeping pills and smothering her. Defence argued that Mehl had a mental disorder and couldn’t be held criminally responsible, but the jury rejected that and Mehl was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2019, Mehl took her case to the Court of Appeal, claiming that at least one of the jurors in her trial exhibited bias and that her lawyer provided ineffective professional assistance.
In its decision released June 30, the court agreed that the conduct of a juror gave rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and failure of the appearance of justice. After interviewing numerous people who witnessed the original trial, the court found multiple actions by one juror could have been perceived as showing solidarity toward the Cunninghams, the paternal family of Charlotte who testified against Mehl.
It found on multiple occasions throughout one trial day, the juror looked to the Cunningham side of the gallery and smiled. On at least five other occasions, the juror was seen making a hand gesture, tapping a closed fist over their heart, directed at the Cunningham family.
Two other times, the juror winked and smiled toward the Cunninghams, including once after the jury was told it must determine if Mehl was guilty of first-degree murder.
The court also found several of these actions were witnessed by Mehl’s lawyer, Jeremy Mills, but he never raised the issue with the trial’s judge. At several other steps of the trial, the Court of Appeal found Mills failed to provide Mehl with sufficient advice and failed to deliver opening and closing addresses that effectively advocated for her case.
The court concluded had Mills provided “reasonable professional service” the outcome of the trial could have been different.
In both the cases of the juror and the lawyer, the Court of Appeal found grounds for Mehl’s murder conviction to be quashed. A new trial will be ordered.
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