Aussie woman facing death row blames 'system failure'
AN Australian woman accused of killing her stepdaughter was an excellent mother who was let down by the health system, her lawyer says.
Adelaide-born Lisa Cunningham, 43, and her detective-turned-prison guard husband Germayne Cunningham, 38, face the death penalty following their indictment for the abuse, neglect and murder of seven-year-old Sanaa Cunningham in February 2017.
The couple have pleaded not guilty to 11 charges, including first-degree murder and child abuse in Arizona.
Ms Cunningham is currently being held in Estrella, a women's jail in Phoenix.
A post mortem examination found the little girl's body covered "from head to toe" with at least 60 scars and more than 100 cuts and bruises.
She also had multiple ulcers and abscesses on her nose, hands, legs and feet and died of septic shock - unable to expel bacteria from her lungs because she had been bound with restraints.
It was also noted the child had an unspecified schizophrenia spectrum disorder.
The Cunninghams have told investigators they were forced to restrain Sanaa, who is Germayne's daughter by first wife Sylvia Norwood, to prevent her from hurting herself and her siblings.
The pair face a raft of horror allegations, including that they bound the seven-year-old with plastic police ties, shackles and a homemade straitjacket, forced her to wear nappies, locked her in the laundry or garage.
Pathologists were unable to state unequivocally if Sanaa died as a direct result of the festering wounds or inadequate treatment of them.
In an exclusive interview with the ABC' 7.30, Ms Cunningham's lawyer Eric Kessler said the couple had tried their best with Sanaa but were overwhelmed by her mental illnesses.
"Sanaa presented with very difficult medical, emotional and psychiatric issues. They sought professional care in all of those fields. Even when they had limited funds, they nonetheless continued to find a solution for Sanaa," Mr Kessler said.
Mr Kessler said the family had been let down by the system.
"If even one medical professional or mental health professional had properly diagnosed this child and given appropriate instructions to Lisa and Germayne to deal with Sanaa's true problems, then I don't believe we would have a deceased child," he said.
The couple each had two children from previous relationships, then had two children together.
"Lisa loved Sanaa as though Sanaa was her own," Mr Kessler said.
"I can see from their other children who are well-adjusted and healthy … so I take from that that they're excellent parents."
Last month it emerged that text messages sent by Ms Cunningham will play a crucial role at trial.
The text messages are described as "critical to criminal and medical findings" and are expected to play a key role in the Cunninghams' impending trial.
QUEENSLAND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES
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