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

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated in Abbotsford for construction workers

Among three sites in Lower Mainland holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

Linnea Labbee outside the Chilliwack Law Courts on April 1, 2021 on day 16 of her trial in BC Supreme Court. Labbee was convicted April 12 for the fatal hit-and-run of 78-year-old Fourghozaman Firoozian on Dec. 1, 2016. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Sentencing hearing scheduled for 72-year-old Chilliwack woman found guilty in fatal hit-and-run

Crown will seek jail time for Linnea Labbee who struck and killed 78-year-old woman in 2016

Chilliwack Spartans Swim Club coach Justin Daly.
Chilliwack Spartans swim coach Justin Daly wins Rubber Boot Award

Daly was recognized in a vote by fellow coaches in the BC Swim Coaches Association

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

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

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

Most Read