Mother held for murder of 7-year-old mentally challenged stepdaughter, who was locked in shackles and makeshift straightjacket
Lisa Cunningham, originally from Adelaide, will be the first Australian woman to face the death penalty in the US if convicted
A mother-of-four has been accused of torturing and murdering her mentally challenged stepdaughter who was allegedly found by authorities covered "head to toe" with almost 100 cuts and bruises. Lisa Cunningham (43) and her 38-year-old husband Germayne Cunningham, a former detective who works as a prison guard, are both facing trial for abusing, neglecting, and murdering seven-year-old Sanaa Cunningham, Germayne's daughter from a previous relationship.
The prosecutors on the case have alleged that the couple made the child sleep outside, locked her inside the laundry room in the home, and kept her contained with plastic ties, a makeshift straightjacket, and shackles. The child was also forced to wear diapers to relieve herself.
News.com.au reported that the prosecutors further alleged that the couple would make the child pick up dog feces with her bare hands. A postmortem exam conducted on the body found that Sanaa had at least 60 scars and more than 100 cuts and bruises on her body. According to Phoenix News, the child also suffered from ulcers and abscesses on her nose, hands, legs, and feet. She is also reported to have died of septic shock.
Defense lawyers argued that the postmortem exam was unable to establish whether the child had died due to a homicide or if the death was an accident. The couple has denied all charges against them and told investigators that they restrained the child to stop her from hurting herself and her siblings. Medical records from the case show that Sanaa had numerous mental health conditions, including schizophrenia and mood disorders. She had also been diagnosed with pica, a psychological disorder where she would eat dirt and hair from her dolls.
Cierra Anderson, Lisa Cunningham's daughter from her first marriage, stood by her mother and stepfather in an interview with The Australian. She said: "Sanaa was completely normal until she turned six. At first, she was diagnosed with ADHD. Then came all the other disorders: pica and oppositional defiance disorder, depression, bipolar, the whole range of mental illnesses."
Cierra added: "She tried to kill our dog once with a river rock. But the worst part was, she would try to hurt herself."
The Cunninghams, who are from Arizona, have pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, however, they could receive the death penalty. Lisa, originally from Adelaide, Australia, will become the first Australian woman to be given the death penalty in the USA if found guilty.
The death penalty in the state of Arizona is carried out with either lethal injection or gas. A hearing for the couple has been scheduled for October.