03/19/2012 01:46 EDT | Updated 05/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Court hears woman has no memory of drowning sons; was abused by father at 15

WETASKIWIN, Alta. - She remembers taking her boys swimming that Friday morning a little more than two years ago. She remembers getting them ready for bed that night.

She remembers starting to drink and take pills, waking up Monday morning in the bathtub of her home. She has vague memories of throwing herself off a bridge onto a busy freeway later that day.

What Allyson McConnell says she doesn't remember is what she's already confessed to — holding her two boys under water until they drowned.

McConnell, testifying in her own defence Monday at her second-degree murder trial, said she thought 2 1/2-year-old Connor and 10-month-old Jayden were still alive days after they were already dead. It wasn't until her mother and sister told her as she recuperated in hospital that she realized what she'd done.

"It's something I keep trying to figure out," she said as her lawyer, Peter Royal, questioned her. "The more I think of it, the more confused I get."

Court heard McConnell, who moved to Canada as an adult from her homeland of Australia, was a woman with a long history of mental-health problems.

In halting testimony that was at times barely audible, she said that her father abused her and got her pregnant when she was 15. She miscarried, she said, and never told on him — although he was kicked out of the family home for assaulting one of her five older sisters.

Shortly after the pregnancy came her first suicide attempt. Another came a few years later.

The suicidal feelings never really went away, she testified. By the time her marriage to Curtis McConnell was ending in the fall of 2009, those thoughts were with the young mother even when she was taking her morning shower.

"I'd be writing a list of ways I could kill myself on the shower (door). I didn't feel my life was worth living."

She told Royal that the end of her marriage had cut her off from her mother-in-law, to whom she'd been close. She had a few friends, but was mostly on her own far from Australia, where her own family lived.

She felt "pretty much just buried ... pretty much overwhelmed and useless."

A few days before the fatal weekend, she filled a prescription for sleeping pills, she testified. She also bought some liquor.

She put the oldest boy, Connor, to bed. Then she went downstairs and began drinking cooler-type drinks and Kahlua, taking the pills along with them.

From then, her memory is unclear. At some point, she remembers throwing up and having a metallic taste in her mouth, but doesn't know if that was the Saturday or the Sunday. On Monday, she drove her car into Edmonton, parked at a Toys R Us store near a busy overpass and went to a hotel to order lunch — a Delta Hotel, because that's where she'd met her husband.

After ordering, she left, went outside and threw herself over the nearby bridge railing. She suffered broken legs, a broken hip, a broken neck and a concussion.

She remains in a mental hospital in Edmonton, where she is on 24-hour suicide watch. Court was told she's tried at least twice to end her life, most recently about three weeks ago.

McConnell said that at no time did she ever think about killing the boys when she thought of killing herself.

"I did not," she said.

But in cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Gordon Hatch suggested to McConnell that she spent the days before planning to do just that. He reminded her that she conducted a computer search on how long it took to drown.

"It's highly unlikely, if not impossible, to drown yourself in a bathtub," he said. "It was only after you drowned the boys that you tried to kill yourself."

McConnell could only answer, "I don't know."

Hatch pointed out that McConnell didn't ask her sister and mother about the well-being of her children in the days after she regained consciousness in hospital.

"You knew that they were dead," he said.

"I don't remember much," was all McConnell could say.

Hatch drew one memory from McConnell — a haunting dream she recounted to her psychiatrist about three months after the deaths. Both boys were in the tub.

"(Connor) was calling up for me," said McConnell. "I could hear him, but I couldn't reach him."

In his opening remarks, Royal reminded the court that the Crown has to prove McConnell meant to drown her sons.

"The issue is one of intent," he told Justice Michelle Crighton.

The McConnells were going through a bitter divorce at the time. Her former husband testified last week that he believes she killed the boys because she "possessed a lot of hate and anger'' toward him. He said she deliberately left her wedding ring on the toilet of the bathroom and left the children for him to find.

One of McConnell's sisters and her mother were in the courtroom Monday.

At the close of morning testimony, Royal asked McConnell what she thought life held in store for her.

"Probably more tried and failed suicide attempts," she responded.