Saturday 3 February 2001
'Angel' of Death gets life in prison
'Cherrylle Dell wanted Scott Dell out of her life forever'Peter Hum
The Ottawa Citizen
Cherrylle Dell was found guilty yesterday of murdering her husband, Scott, by poisoning him with antifreeze, to the surprise of onlookers who packed a tense Ottawa courtroom.
Lynn Ball, The Ottawa Citizen / The judge hearing her case said Cherrylle Dell 'knew the wine Scott Dell was drinking was laced with antifreeze and that the effects of drinking the lethal cocktail would be death.'
"I don't believe it," said Mr. Dell's mother, Myra, after Ontario Superior Court Justice James Chadwick gave his reasons for convicting her daughter-in-law, who is known as "Angel" in jail. "We went in with misgivings. We thought it would go either way ... even though we knew she was guilty," she said.
The first-degree conviction, which meant that Mrs. Dell was immediately sentenced to life behind bars with no chance of parole for 25 years, concludes a two-month trial that has held rapt the Ottawa Valley, where the Dells lived, because of its bizarre details. It had also been the buzz of the Ottawa courthouse because, to many onlookers, including Mr. Dell's relatives, it seemed that Mrs. Dell might be acquitted.
The defence had argued that Mr. Dell, 44, who was found dead on Dec. 29, 1995, in his Killaloe farmhouse, and who had ingested wine laced with antifreeze, had committed suicide in a fit of depression. The Crown's circumstantial case was so bizarre and full of holes as to be unfeasible, the defence argued.
But Judge Chadwick, who presided over the non-jury case, was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Mrs. Dell duped her husband into drinking what he called a "lethal cocktail."
Reading a summary from his 89-page decision, Judge Chadwick said: "I find that from 1992 onward Cherrylle Dell expressed a hatred towards her husband Scott Dell and wished him dead," the judge said.
"She wanted the exclusive custody of the children, the sole occupation and possession of the farm, and wanted Scott Dell out of her life forever.
"There is seldom a case where we hear such strong and consistent evidence about the character of a deceased person. Scott Dell ... was very positive about his life and his love for his children. He wanted to live for his children.
"I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Scott Dell did not commit suicide but was murdered by poisoning."
"The evidence of Scott Dell's friends confirmed he could not let Cherrylle Dell go. He felt he was her caregiver. As a result, she was able to manipulate him into doing anything she wanted.
"The only inference I can draw when I look at all of the evidence is that Cherrylle Dell knew the wine Scott Dell was drinking was laced with antifreeze and that the effects of drinking the lethal cocktail would be death."
The judge noted that Mrs. Dell fabricated elaborate tales to cover up her crime, hoping to convince acquaintances and police that her estranged husband had either died of cancer, which had plagued him months earlier, or that he had killed himself.
He also noted that Mrs. Dell had several motives to kill her husband, including financial gain she thought would be her due, and sole custody of their young children.
The powerful decision left Mr. Dell's mother, aunt and sisters in tears.
Cherrylle Dell, 46, sullen throughout her trial, wiped her eyes after being convicted but said nothing when the judge gave her an opportunity to speak.
As she was being led out of the courtroom, the convicted killer glanced at her mother and mouthed: "I love you, Mom. I love you."
The decision came as a surprise to some because defence lawyers Robert Selkirk and Michael March won key legal arguments during the trial.
They were successful in arguing the trial be heard before a judge rather than a jury. (A jury is thought to be more easily swayed by "bad character" evidence such as the testimony regarding Mrs. Dell's promiscuity, drug use, poor parenting and freeloading during the trial.)
Mrs. Dell's lawyers also successfully argued that significant Crown evidence be found inadmissable.
Judge Chadwick ruled that videotaped police interviews of Mrs. Dell's lesbian lover, Nancy Fillmore, were inadmissable because they were insufficiently reliable. Ms. Fillmore told police she bought the wine and antifreeze Mr. Dell drank and watched Mrs. Dell mix the two.
Ms. Fillmore, 37, died in an August 1997 fire.
Mrs. Dell is charged with first-degree murder in connection with that death, and her preliminary hearing is to begin this month.
Judge Chadwick also excluded a videotaped police interview with Brent Crawford, a Killaloe teenager. Mr. Crawford said that Mrs. Dell asked him to set the fire that killed Ms. Fillmore. However, he testified to the contrary at Mrs. Dell's trial and the judge found his videotaped interview insufficiently reliable.
Mr. Crawford's first-degree murder trial is to begin April 2.
The judge also disallowed evidence from Dr. Antoon Leenaars, a Windsor psychologist and expert in suicide, who offered his opinion that Mr. Dell did not commit suicide.
Outside court, defence lawyer Mr. Selkirk said he and his client were disappointed.
"I thought we had established a case ... The judge found to the contrary," he said.
Mr. Selkirk said the case would be referred to Toronto lawyers, who will weigh whether to appeal.
Pembroke Crown attorney Peter Barnes and OPP Det.-Const. Ken Leppert, the lead investigator in the case, had no comment.
Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.