A gavel sits on a desk before the a meeting of the House Justice and Human Rights Committee in Ottawa, on February 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A gavel sits on a desk before the a meeting of the House Justice and Human Rights Committee in Ottawa, on February 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Mother convicted of smothering disabled daughter wins 1st-degree murder trial

The Crown alleged Cindy Ali decided to kill her seizure-prone daughter by suffocating her with a pillow, then tried to cover up her crime by blaming a home invasion

A mother found guilty of smothering her severely disabled daughter won a new first-degree murder trial on Friday because of faulty instructions to the jury that convicted her.

In a unanimous decision, Ontario’s top court found Cindy Ali deserved another chance to make her case given the trial judge’s error.

“The jury instructions wrongly narrowed the proper scope of the jury’s deliberations,” the Appeal Court found. “It is essential that all defences and verdicts reasonably available on the evidence be left with the jury for its consideration.”

The mother of four had, by all accounts, been a loving and devoted parent to Cynara, who was born with severe cerebral palsy. The girl was 16 when she died at home in east-end Toronto on Feb. 19, 2011.

At her first-degree murder trial in 2016, the Crown alleged Ali decided to kill her seizure-prone daughter by suffocating her with a pillow, then tried to cover up her crime by blaming a home invasion. The prosecution argued the robbery tale suggested Ali had planned the murder.

Ali, however, stuck to her story about two robbers forcing their way into her home, and that Cynara was unconscious when they left. Her defence argued one of the men might have suffocated the girl, or that she might have had a stress-induced seizure and choked on food.

In quashing the conviction, the Court of Appeal faulted the trial judge’s instructions on how Cynara had died. The court also said Superior Court Justice Todd Ducharme was wrong in what he said jurors could infer if they decided Ali had lied about the robbery.

“On the path cut by the trial judge’s instructions, the jury’s verdict of guilty of first-degree murder could have been based almost entirely on finding the appellant fabricated the home invasion story,” the Appeal Court said.

In fact, the appellate court said, a jury could reasonably have concluded Cynara choked after a seizure and acquitted Ali.

Writing for the Appeal Court, Justice David Doherty said the jury could also have found Ali had simply failed to respond properly to a seizure as the defence had suggested. In that case, a finding she lied about the home invasion would have taken on a different significance for the jury, he said.

“It may have concluded the home invasion narrative was fabricated by the appellant to hide her failure to do what she knew she should have done to help her daughter,” Doherty wrote.

Ducharme, however, twice said he could see no other explanation than murder if the jury found Ali had lied. Instead, Doherty wrote, Ducharme should have told jurors to consider all reasonable possibilities.

While Ali might have lied to cover up a murder, Doherty said she could have simply been trying to hide her failure to protect her daughter, or she panicked, among possibilities.

“The trial judge should also have instructed the jury to consider those other possible reasonable explanations in the context of the entirety of the evidence,” the court said.

The appellate court did reject one defence argument: that a first-degree murder finding was unreasonable. Ali’s behaviour, especially related to the home invasion scenario, could have supported an inference that she had planned an excuse before killing Cynara, the court said.

“The evidence warranted leaving first-degree murder with the jury,” Doherty wrote.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

murder

Just Posted

Elaine Kirwin in her Expedia Cruises office talks about the future of travel. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Sidney travel agency charts course through pandemic

Owner of Expedia Cruises in Sidney expects smooth sailing ahead once travel restrictions lift

Oak Bay Rotary Club member Lorna Curtis takes over as District Governor of Rotary District 5020 on July 1. (Courtesy Lorna Curtis)
Former Oak Bay recreation director goes international with Rotary

Lorna Curtis takes over as district governor on July 1

Co-creatorsAdrianna Hatton and Malcolm McKenzie stand next to the little free library revealed Sunday at 9710 First St. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Literary crowd helps opens little free library in Sidney

Located at 9710 First St., the book sharing box features original art and reclaimed wood

Deep Cove Elementary School principal Shelley Hardcastle (right) and vice-principal Mary Kaercher help to restock Reay Creek with fish – in this case, coho fry – after a recent bleach spill killed hundreds of fish. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich’s Deep Cove Elementary School helps to restock Sidney’s Reay Creek

Restocking followed bleach spill that killed hundreds of fish in creek

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read