POLITICS

Crown says trial of Alberta mom for murder of her children will focus on intent

03/12/2012 01:50 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT
WETASKIWIN, Alta. - A woman who drowned her two small children in the bathtub of the family home had started to give away some of their belongings before they died.

Allyson McConnell, whose trial started Monday in Wetaskiwin, Alta., has admitted in court documents to killing the two boys before trying to kill herself by leaping off a bridge. It will be up to the judge to decide if she is guilty of murder.

"It's going to come down to intent," Crown prosecutor Gordon Hatch said in his opening address.

Defence lawyer Peter Royal uttered the words "not guilty" to two counts of second-degree murder on behalf of his client, whom he described as suffering from significant depression. She has been a mental health patient at Alberta Hospital for nearly two years since her sons' deaths and remains under around-the-clock suicide watch.

McConnell, 33, who is originally from Australia, looked pale and gaunt as she sat in the prisoner's box, her appearance vastly different from the smiling wife and mother seen in family photos.

Her mother and sister travelled from Australia to attend the trial, but McConnell barely looked at them sitting in the courtroom. Her gaze settled on her lap.

Hatch said evidence will show McConnell was angry with her estranged husband, Curtis, and wanted to take 2-1/2-year-old Connor and 10-month-old Jayden back to Australia.

The couple married Down Under in 2007 and bought a home in the town of Millet, just south of Edmonton, the following year. He worked at a hardware store and she did accounting for an oil company.

The marriage began crumbling in 2009 and Curtis McConnell moved out.

Family court records show he had taken the children's passports for safekeeping. A family court judge had also ordered the children be kept in Alberta until custody could be settled.

On Feb. 1, 2010, a call from police apparently gave Curtis McConnell the first hint that something horrible had happened.

Officers had called to tell him his wife was in the hospital after jumping off a bridge and onto a busy expressway in Edmonton. He rushed to the family's home to check on his children, broke into a locked bathroom and found their bodies floating in the tub.

Hatch said the children were last seen in public a few days earlier. Their mother had taken the boys to go swimming with a neighbour and her children. Later that night, she gave the woman some of their belongings: a child's car seat, some clothing, computers and cameras.

An agreed statement of facts submitted in court says McConnell drowned the children on Feb. 1, then drove to Edmonton and parked outside a Toys R Us store. She walked to a hotel and ordered lunch but became upset and left.

She walked to a bridge over Whitemud Drive, one of the city's main freeways, jumped over the railing and fell onto the pavement below. She was treated in hospital for broken legs, pelvis and collarbone.

RCMP Sgt. Dan Gyonyor testified officers later found evidence in the home of past suicide attempts. The boys' bodies were found in the main bathroom. But in the master ensuite, a plugged-in hair dryer and hair iron were lying in a tub full of water. The power in the room was out. There were also empty liquor bottles, pill bottles and a suitcase in the room.

In the basement, a red nylon rope was tied to a rafter. A chair with dusty footprints was sitting underneath it.

Computer expert Dwayne Pilling examined a computer seized from the family's home. He testified that he found several searches relating to suicide and drowning on its hard drive.

"How long does it take to drown?" was one search made a few weeks before the boys were killed, Pilling said.

"How long does it take to die from strangulation?" was another search made the morning they died.

A judge has already found McConnell fit to stand trial. Her psychiatrist is to be called to testify about her mental state at the time of the killings.