Mother accused in disabled daughter's death testifies in court
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, February 29, 2016 11:24AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 29, 2016 8:37PM EST
TORONTO -- Looking over at the jury that will decide her fate, a Toronto woman accused of murdering her severely disabled daughter said she did not kill her child.
Cindy Ali testified at her first-degree murder trial Monday, where she has pleaded not guilty in the death of 16-year-old Cynara, who had cerebral palsy and couldn't walk, talk or feed herself.
Crown prosecutors have argued Ali murdered Cynara in February 2011 by smothering her with a pillow and then spun an elaborate web of lies about a home invasion to cover up the crime.
Ali, however, took the court through a blow-by-blow account of the alleged invasion, teared up when recalling how she didn't want to take her child off life support and was calm when asked by her lawyer whether she did "anything at all" to cause Cynara's death.
"No I did not," Ali said clearly.
When a Crown lawyer suggested Ali was lying, the 45-year-old repeatedly said she "didn't do anything to Cynara."
"I never hold the pillow over my daughter's face," Ali said. "I never did anything like that."
Taking care of Cynara was not easy, Ali admitted.
"But it was a big joy for me as a mother. I have no complaints."
On the morning of Feb. 19, 2011, when Ali and Cynara were home alone, the doorbell rang, court heard.
"There were two masked men that pushed the door in," Ali said, noting that the men were "well-dressed," with black coats, black shoes, ski masks and gloves. They appeared to have dark skin and Jamaican accents, she said.
Ali recalled that her immediate concern was Cynara, who she had left lying on the living room couch.
The woman testified that she ran through the kitchen to get to the living room, grabbing two kitchen knives laying on the counter and hurling them at one of the men, who was pursuing her.
At that point, Ali noticed one of the men had a gun, court heard. That man started asking her about a "package," she said.
"I said what package? I have no clue what you're talking about," Ali recounted. "I went straight to Cynara."
Ali said the man with the gun then grabbed her by the arm saying he wanted to go upstairs. They went into the master bedroom, where the man opened drawers and cupboards, then on to a bedroom where two other daughters slept, and then Cynara's room, she said.
"My drawers are very tidy and neat so if he pulled the drawers you can see what he's looking for," she said. "I didn't know the size of the package."
Crown prosecutors have told the jury that police found drawers pulled open in Ali's house, but the contents did not appear to have been rummaged through.
When the man was in Cynara's room, Ali said she ran downstairs, grabbing a candle holder from the front hallway and throwing it over her shoulder before rushing into the living room where she tripped over a carpet.
The man followed and kicked Ali as she was getting up, she said. When she was on her feet, she said she saw Cynara, who began laughing at the sight of her mother.
The man then took Ali to the basement, while his accomplice remained in the living room with Cynara, Ali said.
While in the basement, Ali made another dash back to the living room, court heard.
That was when Ali said she looked at the second man and "froze."
"He was just standing there and he had a pillow in his hand," she said. "He was standing by Cynara...She wasn't moving, she was very quiet and she was pale."
At that point the man who had been leading Ali through the house announced they had the wrong residence and left with his accomplice through a basement door, Ali said.
As she heard them leave, Ali shook her daughter gently and called 911 when the girl didn't respond.
Ali said she "passed out" while on the phone with the 911 operator and had trouble processing questions first responders asked when they found Cynara without vital signs.
"I was just numb, I was frozen," she said. "I keep asking 'Is Cynara ok?"'
Cynara died in a Toronto hospital two days later, court heard.
"I wasn't ready to let her go," an emotional Ali said in court, adding that she was surprised when she became a suspect in the case. "Till this day I still don't understand how I got to this point."
An autopsy found Cynara's immediate cause of death was a brain injury from deprivation of oxygen, which was caused by cardiac arrest. Court heard the cardiac arrest could have been caused by suffocation.
A pathologist called by Ali's defence lawyer has suggested, however, that Cynara could have suffered a seizure-related death.
Ali said her daughter had several seizures in a year -- including three the day before the alleged home invasion -- and some appeared to be triggered by being around strangers.
Cindy Ali appears in a Toronto courthouse on Feb. 29, 2016. (John Mantha / CTV Toronto)
Cynara Ali, 16, is shown in a family photo.