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

Grizzly Plaza Revitalization team. Robert Inwood (left), Bill Cameron, Fran Jenkins and Tom Lynn (creators of the bear statues). (Photo from Revelstoke Museum and Archives #10304 TR-853)
Man who redesigned downtown Revelstoke honoured with lifetime achievement award

Robert Inwood has worked on historical projects across the province

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
MP Morrison appointed to parliamentary national security committee

Kootenay-Columbia parliamentarian one of five candidates appointed to national security committee

(Pixabay photo)
Morning Start: Hot and cold water have different pouring sounds

Your morning start for Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Bear wanders Kelowna on June 15. (Michelle Wallace/Facebook)
Bear climbs fence, uses crosswalk in Kelowna

The bear was spotted on Baron Road Wednesday evening

This photo of the small wildfire burning above Naramata was taken at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021 (Monique Tamminga Western News)
BC Wildfire on scene of small wildfire above Naramata

Smoke has been showing since earlier in the day

Students in the Grade 10 entrepreneurship program at Summerland Unisus School have completed a cookbook with international recipes. (Contributed)
Summerland students create virtual international cookbook

Entrepreneurship program at Summerland Unisus School uses virtual cookbook as fundraiser

Hundreds of people, young and old, joined the three-day Walking Our Spirits Home procession, honouring residential school survivors, those who never made it home and all those affected by the institutions. Here people walk the third portion on June 13. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Walking Our Spirits Home from Kamloops provides path to healing

First Nations in and beyond Secwépemc territory join in to honour residential school survivors

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

More flames
Lake Country home destroyed in large blaze, 11 dogs rescued

Fire crews are responding to 10839 Hallam Drive

(Facebook/Kelowna Cabs)
Kelowna Cabs reaches tentative agreement with dispatchers union

The tentative agreement could help end the dispute between the taxi company and the dispatchers

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

Most Read