Lisa Cunningham is facing capital punishment in the US over the death of her seven-year-old stepdaughter. Picture: Maricopa County Police
Lisa Cunningham is facing capital punishment in the US over the death of her seven-year-old stepdaughter. Picture: Maricopa County Police

Australian mother faces death penalty

AN Australian woman living in the US could be sentenced to death after being charged with the murder of her stepdaughter.

Lisa Cunningham, 43, a mother of four who resides in Phoenix, Arizona, and her husband Germayne Cunningham, 39, have been charged with first-degree murder over seven-year-old Sanaa Cunningham's February 2017 death, according to The Australian.

Germayne Cunningham and Australian wife Lisa Cunningham have been charged with the murder of Sanaa, seven, his daughter and her stepdaughter. Pic: Maricopa County Jail
Germayne Cunningham and Australian wife Lisa Cunningham have been charged with the murder of Sanaa, seven, his daughter and her stepdaughter. Pic: Maricopa County Jail

In December last year, following a 10-month police investigation into Sanaa's death from pneumonia and complications from sepsis, a grand jury in Maricopa County indicted the couple on 10 counts of child abuse and one of first-degree murder, the newspaper reports.

After a two-day evidentiary hearing last month, the prosecution is seeking the death penalty for the pair.

Prosecutors allege the Cunninghams abused and neglected Sanaa, who had mental disorders including schizophrenia, by keeping her zip-tied to a large water tank in their home's garage, restraining her in a long-sleeved shirt, like a straight-jacket, making her to sleep outside or in the laundry, forcing her to pick up dog faeces with her bare hands, and neglecting to treat a wound on her foot that turned septic.

Prosecutors say restraints used to tie up Sanaa, who was severely ill with pneumonia at the time of her death, prevented her from expelling liquid from her lungs, and that she was unresponsive, drooling and unable to stand when she was finally taken to hospital. She died four hours later.

Sanaa Cunningham, seven, died in February 2017, hours after being taken to hospital. The autopsy was inconclusive as to whether she died by accident or was killed. Pic: GoFundMen
Sanaa Cunningham, seven, died in February 2017, hours after being taken to hospital. The autopsy was inconclusive as to whether she died by accident or was killed. Pic: GoFundMen

 

"There were many warning signs with regard to her need for medical attention," Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp said, the Phoenix New Times reports.

"This was more than reckless behaviour. This was more than a failure to provide care and it led to the child's death."

However, the defence point to the little girl's autopsy report, which was inconclusive as to whether she was killed or died by accident. The couple's lawyers claim the Cunninghams were only trying to stop Sanaa from harming herself and others.

The Cunninghams deny the charges. They have been in custody without bond since the judge's ruling on August 27.

Sanaa's biological mother, Sylvia Norwood, did not have custody of her daughter.

Adelaide-born Mrs Cunningham's 20-year-old daughter Cierra Anderson said to The Australian of her mother and stepfather "everything they were doing, they were doing to try to help her."

"We need the Australian government to help us because we are getting no help here."

Lisa Cunningham has been living in America for 20 years. As an Australian citizen, she is eligible for $500,000 in funding from the Attorney-General Department's Overseas Criminal Matters Scheme, which assists Australians facing the death penalty in a foreign country.

Cassie Sainsbury and Schapelle Corby both received funds for their legal defence from the scheme.

As The Australian points out, Mrs Cunningham is the first woman to ever face the death penalty in the US, and the first Australian since the hanging of a man in California in the 1850s gold rush era.

The method of capital punishment in Arizona is lethal injection or gas.

A hearing is scheduled for October.

 

For the full story, visit The Australian.



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