An Australian mother is facing the death penalty in the US after being charged, alongside her husband, with the alleged abuse and murder of her stepdaughter.
Lisa Cunningham, 43, and her husband Germayne Cunningham, 39, are accused of torturing and neglecting seven-year-old Sanaa, Seven News reports.
A Maricopa County judge has reportedly ruled that Cunningham and her American husband, who is a former policeman, could be eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
According to the Phoenix Times newspaper, Sanaa died of pneumonia and complications such as sepsis in February last year.
Prosecutors have since claimed in court that the accused couple used plastic ties to restrain the young girl, forced her to wear a straight jacket and shackles, and locked her either outside or in a laundry room.
The court reportedly heard that Sanaa suffered from schizophrenia and other behavioural disorders.
“There were many warning signs with regard to her need for medical attention,” Judge Michael Kemp said at the hearing, the publication reported.
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“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 have reportedly brought forward the young girl’s autopsy report, which is said to have been inconclusive on whether she was killed or died by accident. The couple’s lawyers claim they were trying to stop Sanaa harming herself, news.com.au reports.
Cunningham was raised in Adelaide before moving to the US 20 years ago after marrying an American serviceman, according to multiple reports.
She is the first Australian woman to face the death penalty in the US. She is also the first ever, since the hanging of a man in California in the 1850s.
The hearing is now scheduled for October.