Toronto mother found guilty in death of disabled daughter
Published Sunday, March 6, 2016 11:45AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, March 6, 2016 7:07PM EST
It took five years for Cindy Ali's case to get to trial — and 10 hours for a jury to convict her of first-degree murder in the death of her severely disabled daughter, Cynara.
The Toronto mother sobbed in the prisoner's box as she removed her jewellery, piece by piece, and handed it to a court officer, who then handed it to her husband. Her surviving daughters wept as Ali's hands were cuffed behind her and she was led away.
Moments earlier, one by one, 12 jurors agreed to a finding of guilt on one count of first-degree murder.
Justice Todd Ducharme thanked the jury and then released them. And then he turned to Ali.
"Ms. Ali, you've been convicted of first-degree murder of your daughter Cynara Ali. That means that both the jury found that you smothered Cynara and that you did so in a planned and deliberate fashion," Ducharme said. "I hereby sentence you to life in prison with parole ineligibility of 25 years."
While first-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, normally, sentencing is put over to a later date so family members of the victim can tell the judge and the accused how the crime affected their lives. Given there was nobody submitting victim impact statements, Crown attorney Rosemarie Juginovic agreed that sentencing could happen immediately.
Ali's supporters — many of them fellow parishioners from Church on the Rock International Ministries — filed out of the courtroom saying, "I can't believe this is happening. It's not possible," and, "They got it wrong."
Their religious leader, Pastor Sheela Duraisami,, said of the murder, "It never happened."
But a jury decided Sunday that it did happen, that 45-year-old Cindy Ali smothered 16-year-old Cynara and then staged a home invasion to cover it up.
It was Feb. 19, 2011, just after 11:30 a.m., while her husband and three other children were out of the home, that Cindy Ali called 911 to say that someone had broken in and that her "baby" wasn't breathing.
Her "baby," as it turned out, was 16-year-old Cynara, whose cerebral palsy meant that she could not walk or talk or feed herself.
And yet, Ali told police and later, the jury, that as a gunman led her around the townhouse looking for a mysterious "package," his comrade curiously stood guard over Cynara with a pillow clutched in his hands.
When the gunman declared they had gotten "the wrong house," Ali told the jury, the other man threw the pillow and they left. Ali never testified that she saw the intruder smothering Cynara, just that for the few seconds that she saw him, he had the pillow in his hands.
Cynara died the next day.
'I'm very angry'
"They got it wrong," Ali's husband, Allan Ali, said outside the courthouse on Sunday. "Yes, there's an appeal coming...I'm very angry right now."
Fellow parishioner Anne Woolger called the Ali family "the most loving, caring family that I know. They were the happily married, loving family. They loved their daughter. They are people of great integrity."
Woolger and other supporters, clung to the evidence of a neighbour in Ali's townhouse complex who had testified to seeing two men in black coats — what kind of black coats, she wasn't sure — in the underground parking garage before the alleged home invasion. Supporters also believed testimony of a pathologist called by the defence who said it was possible Cynara died of natural causes.
The pathologist called by the Crown testified it was possible Cynara was smothered with a pillow, to which Woolger said, "She could have (been), but that doesn't mean it's the truth."
Before ending their first day of deliberations Saturday, the jury came back with their first and only question: They wanted the judge to reiterate the meaning of "deliberate," as in "planned and deliberate," which would suggest they were already deciding between first- and second-degree murder.
"It was a concerning question, but you never know what the jury's thinking whenever you get a question from the jury," defence lawyer Kristin Bailey said Sunday.
Her colleague, Christopher Hicks, said they have not yet received instructions from Ali, but that, "I expect we'll have instructions from Cindy Ali and her family to proceed with an appeal."
Hicks said the appeal may have to do with evidence surrounding "post-offence conduct," including the staging of the home invasion. The Crown had argued Ali staged the home invasion before killing Cynara.
For Det. Sgt. Frank Skubic, who was the lead investigator on the case before leaving Toronto’s Homicide Squad two years ago, said the investigation was dedicated to Cynara.
"Cynara was a vulnerable person and we take great pride in advocating on behalf of vulnerable persons in our society, in the city of Toronto, and she was, she was left out there by herself," Skubic said. "It was different in that everyone involved in this investigation was around both Cynara and the accused in this case and it was very difficult that no one really advocated on her behalf. I felt it important that, you know, we keep this investigation going, we look at all the evidence, we keep an open mind to all the possibilities, however, all the possibilities led back to Cindy Ali and that's why we're here today."