Appeals

Appeal Court Orders New Trial for Mother Convicted of Smothering her Disabled Daughter

Written on behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Cindy Ali (“Ali”), the mother of 16-year-old disabled daughter Cynara, was granted her appeal last week and a new trial was ordered.

It was alleged that Ali murdered her own daughter and tried to make it look as though she had died in a home invasion. At her trial, it was alleged that Ali had suffocated Cynara with a pillow and then called 911 reporting that she was the victim of a home invasion and her daughter was unconscious. When paramedics arrived, Cynara was not breathing and did not have a pulse. She was rushed to the hospital, but was never able to breathe on her own and the next day was removed from life support. Cynara’s autopsy revealed that she had suffered from severe brain damage resulting from a heart attack.

Cynara was born with severe cerebral palsy and was unable to walk, talk or feed herself. She was also prone to seizures and aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when food is inhaled into the lungs.

Ali, a mother of four, was described by other witnesses at her trial as a loving and devoted parent to Cynara. Throughout her trial, Ali maintained that two robbers forced themselves into her home. She found Cynara unconscious when they left and claimed that she was either suffocated by the robbers or suffered from a stress-induced seizure and/or choked on food.

Ali was originally charged with manslaughter, but this charge was later replaced with a charge of first degree murder.

THE TRIAL

Ali’s trial focused on whether or not Cynara’s death was caused by a home invasion.

The firefighter who was first to respond to the 911 call did not believe there was a home invasion as he did not see any footprints in the snow in front of the house, inferring that no one entered the home.

The experts who testified at Ali’s trial all agreed that Cynara’s death was caused by one of three ways:

  • Aspiration pneumonia;
  • Manual suffocation; or
  • Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.

Both a police pathologist as well as an independent pathologist retained by the defence testified at Ali’s trial that there was no evidence that Cynara had been smothered. In addition, a neighbor testified that she had seen two men in the townhouse complex’s underground garage immediately prior to the reported home invasion.

The jury convicted Ali of first degree murder.

THE APPEAL

Ontario’s top court found that the trial judge improperly instructed the jury and therefore Ali deserved a new trial.

The trial judge instructed the jurors that if they believed that Ali had made up the robbery story, they should infer that she had participated in her daughter’s death and should be found guilty of murder.

However, the appeal court stated that another possible scenario was that Ali, who was responsible for the wellbeing of her daughter, failed to take the necessary steps to protect her during a seizure. If this was the case, the jury could have found her guilty of manslaughter, not first degree murder and facing a life sentence.

Justice David Doherty, writing on behalf of the judges on the three person panel, wrote:

[T]he jury instructions wrongly narrowed the proper scope of the jury’s deliberations. It is essential that all defences and verdicts reasonably available on the evidence be left with the jury for its consideration. …

On this evidence, it was reasonably open to the jury to conclude, or at least have a doubt as to whether Cynara was suffocated. …

In my view, human experience and common sense suggested various explanations, should the jury conclude the appellant fabricated the home invasion story. Some of those point toward guilt, others do not.

Superior Court Justice Todd Ducharme was critiqued by the court of appeal for his instructions to the jury with respect to how Cynara had died and that he should not have instructed the jury that they could infer that she was guilty of murder if they decided Ali had lied about the robbery. Justice Ducharme instructed the jury on two occasions that he could see no other explanation than murder if they determined that Ali had lied about the home invasion.

The appeal court found that jurors should have been given other theories to consider aside from murder, such as the possibility that Ali panicked when her daughter was having a seizure and she didn’t do enough to save her.

We will continue to follow the developments of this case as it proceeds to a new trial and will report on any updates in this blog.

In the meantime, if you are facing criminal charges or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services. We are available when you need us most.