First responders described a gruesome scene to the jury Tuesday, as they told the court what they discovered on the morning 18-month-old Charlotte Cunningham was found dead.
The court heard from VicPD officers Const. Jessica Moretto and Const. Kyle Pistone, who responded to the 911 call that directed them to the Vista Heights home just after 5 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2015.
Kaela Mehl, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter Charlotte, was staying with her mother, Leanna Comis, at the time.
“I see the baby laying on the bed, and she’s grey, and Leanna [Comis] says something about ‘she’s gone,’” a tearful Moretto said on the stand.
Moretto and Pistone described the scene to the jury.
The street was quiet: no cars were on the road, no one was walking around. No car was in the driveway, but a vehicle was parked across the street. The home was dark, but officers described a faint light coming from the back of the house, possibly a nightlight inside. They rang the doorbell and knocked, but no one answered.
Moretto said she heard some muffled sounds she thought was just the “house settling in.”
They returned to their vehicle to try to find contact information for the homeowner, when Pistone discovered the house belonged to Comis, a jailer at VicPD and an acquaintance.
Shortly afterward, Comis pulled her car into the driveway, and seemed surprised to see the officers there. She unlocked the doors and the officers followed her inside. Pistone said he heard Comis screaming after she went inside.
Moretto testified to what she saw.
“When [Comis] opens the door I can see Kaela [Mehl] laying on the ground in the hallway just between the bathroom and the bedroom. I can see her, she’s laying down, she’s facing me, she’s in a tank top, sweating and groaning and mumbling,” Moretto said. “Once I heard her I realized the sounds I [previously] heard outside were her groaning from within the house.”
Moretto said Comis went into the bedroom, saying, “Where’s the baby? Where’s Charlotte?”
Comis was panicked, testified Moretto, who took a deep breath, her face turning red.
Comis pulled the covers back.
“I see the baby laying on the bed, and she’s grey, and Leanna says something about ‘she’s gone,’” Moretto said. “She touched [Charlotte], and then falls backwards.”
On the stand, Moretto attempted to hold back her tears. She wiped her nose and eyes, pausing between answers to the Crown lawyer’s questions.
She testified that she took Comis out of the bedroom while Pistone looked at the body. He said the child was lying on her side, teeth clenched, vomit beside her with blood pooling under her body. She “had vomit coming out of [her] mouth; it was yellowish, blackish colour, which in my experience is associated with someone whose been deceased for a little while.”
After observing the child’s body, Pistone said, he went back to Mehl who seemed to be breathing, and they put her into the recovery position. He said she appeared to be in a comatose-like state, and drifted in and out of consciousness. The officers found an empty bottle of Zopiclone and suspected she had overdosed.
VicPD Sgt. Kris Rice, who arrived on the scene later, testified that he saw Charlotte laying on her side and noted she was pale.
“I grabbed her right away; I could feel she was still warm although she appeared to be deceased,” Rice said. “Her right arm was stiff as if rigour mortis had set in, however since she was still warm to the touch I thought there may be a possibility to save her.
“She had bitten on her tongue so it was difficult to open her jaw and get an airway, so I started [chest] compressions right away.”
Paramedic Darren Lam also testified Tuesday. He confirmed it had appeared rigour mortis had set in the child’s body by the time they found her, indicating she had been deceased for some time.
Mehl too, was in bad shape. It was later determined she had overdosed on a potentially fatal dose of Zopiclone, the same drug she fed to her daughter by mixing it in her yogurt before smothering her.
“She had an altered level of consciousness: she appeared drowsy,” Lam said. “Her talking was very muffled and very quiet, but she obeyed commands.”
Moretto had also stated that Mehl had been mumbling things, some things clear, but mostly incoherent.
On cross examination, defence council asked Moretto to clarify what she had said in an earlier statement, that Mehl said something to the effect of “Where’s the baby? Where’s Charlotte” and “I want to hold Charlotte. Please give me Charlotte.”
The Crown has concluded its case, and the defense is expected to begin Thursday.