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'We're still together': Family, friends testify in defence of Toronto mother, once convicted of killing disabled daughter

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Taking the stand for a second time in her life, Amanda Ali rejected prosecutor’s suggestions that her mother smothered her disabled teenage sister in an act of mercy at their Scarborough townhouse in 2011, instead detailing a loving and happy home life.

“I still rely on my parents to this day. They are always there and they always will be,” Amanda, now in her 30s, testified Wednesday at the retrial of her mother, Cindy Ali.

“We’re still together, we’re still strong and we’re still a family,” she told the court.

After being convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the death of her daughter, Cynara, in 2016 and successfully appealing that conviction five years later, Cindy's retrial began in October.

Prosecutors in this trial first suggested Cynara had been murdered in an act of mercy while cross-examining Cindy in November, weeks later.

Cynara, who lived with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, had exceeded her life expectancy, the Crown said. They suggested that this, alongside a string of recent seizures suffered by Cynara, caused Cindy to fear that her daughter's quality of life would only continue to. She killed her daughter to alleviate her suffering, the prosecution suggested.

“I don’t agree with that,” Amanda said when assistant Crown attorney Craig Coughlan posed the possible motive to her.

“My mom loved Cynara. She would never do anything to hurt her.”

Cynara Ali can be seen above sitting in front of a birthday cake. (Exhibit: Superior Court of Justice)

READ MORE: Mother denies killing disabled teenage daughter in suggested act of mercy in Toronto retrial testimony

Cynara died on Feb. 21, 2011 at 16 years old. Two days earlier, Cindy had called 911 reporting two men with thick Jamaican accents had broken into her family’s Scarborough townhouse, located on Burrow Halls Boulevard, looking for a “package.”

In her police report and later court testimonies, Cindy said one of the men guided her through the home looking for the item and when he returned her to the living room, she found Cynara lifeless on the couch, with one of the men holding a pillow nearby. She said the two men then said they’d gotten the wrong house and fled through the basement door.

First responders found Cindy on the floor of the townhouse, seemingly uninjured yet unresponsive, and Cynara on the couch without vital signs. The teen was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead two days later.

The Burrows Hall Boulevard townhouse complex can be seen above on Feb. 19, 2011. (CTV News Toronto)

In March 2012, Toronto police charged Cindy with manslaughter, upgrading the charge to first-degree murder months later.

When the case went to trial in 2016, the Crown argued that Cynara had become a burden on the Ali family, that Cindy had smothered her and then staged her home to look like someone had broken in.

A jury deliberated for 10 hours before convicting Cindy of first-degree murder and handing her an automatic life sentence, no chance of parole for 25 years. That conviction was overturned in 2021 in an appeal headed by defence lawyers James Lockyer and Jessica Zita.

READ MORE: Toronto mother convicted of smothering daughter wins new first-degree murder trial 

In the more than a decade since Cynara’s death, the Ali family has repeatedly sworn that she was deeply loved and celebrated. Re-reading the eulogy she gave at her sister's funeral – this time, to a courtroom rather than a funeral home — Amanda testified that her family will forever cherish their “beautiful memories” of Cynara.

“We will remember her laughter and her tears,” she told the court Tuesday, fighting tears of her own.

Cynara Ali can be seen above. (Superior Court of Justice Exhibit)

Amanda, six years older than Cynara, testified that her family always went above and beyond to make her younger sister feel included and welcomed.

“Cynara had a very happy life," she said. "She had the latest gear, the latest clothes. She was never a burden, only a blessing, to our family.”

Amanda told the court that her family has been unable to change Cynara's bedroom in the 12 years since her death. Only immediate family members have been allowed to stay in it, she said.

Her testimony followed that of Cindy and her husband Allan's, both of whom spoke of a deep love for their daughter.

During his time on the witness stand, Allan said Cynara was his "pride and joy" and that his house was a happy one.

The Ali family can be seen at Marineland, a favourite attraction of Cynara's (Superior Court of Justice Exhibit)

Outside of the home, Cynara had an extensive network of loved ones, all of whom were invested in her well-being, according to Amanda’s testimony. Describing her arrival at the hospital on the day of the alleged break-in, Amanda said she was met with a waiting room full of supporters, praying for her sister’s recovery.

“That whole waiting room was full of church members, family, friends,” she said. “I remember it being a full room.”

One of those supporters, a pastor at the Ali family’s church, also took the stand this week, echoing sentiments Cynara was well cared for.

“There is absolutely no doubt on how much Cindy loved Cynara,” Sheela Duraisami, pastor with Church on the Rock in North York, testified Tuesday. "I don't think I ever heard her complain."

“There would be times Cindy had been up all night with her [...] and I’d ask her, ‘Do you need a break?’ and every time, she would say, ‘I’m just happy to be with her,'" she continued.

At the hospital in the hours after the alleged break-in, the pastor said she advocated that Cindy be reunited with Cynara, who had been placed on life support. At that time, Cindy had been informed by police that she could not see her daughter, according to several testimonies of those present.

“On some level, I knew Cynara was not conscious but I believed that Cindy’s presence was necessary if she was going to hold onto life,” she said.

Cindy, taken shortly after to a Toronto police station for questioning, never saw Cynara alive again. She was taken off life support the next day.

Church on the Rock pastor Sheela Duraisami can be seen above.

In her testimony, Amanda said that the police investigation into her sister's death at times hindered her ability to grieve.

“It felt like we didn't have time to grieve, to process,” she told the court. “Cynara had just passed, her funeral had just happened and right after, we had detectives contacting us.”

Still, the family did what was asked of them, she said.

“We cooperated. Anything they wanted, we abided.”

Cindy’s retrial began in October and is being deliberated upon by Justice Jane Kelly alone. Final arguments are scheduled to take place on Dec. 18. 

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