Australian stepmum faces death penalty if found guilty of Arizona girl’s abuse and murder

Prosecutors allege the Cunninghams kept daughter Sanaa in a straight jacket and shackles.

Prosecutors allege the Cunninghams kept daughter Sanaa in a straight jacket and shackles. Photo: Maricopa County Jail

Australian woman Lisa Cunningham faces a potential death sentence in the US after being indicted in Arizona for the abuse and murder of her seven-year-old stepdaughter.

A Maricopa County judge ruled after a two-day hearing Cunningham and her American husband, former police detective Germayne Cunningham, were eligible for the death penalty if convicted at their upcoming trial.

The Phoenix Times reported Cunningham’s daughter, Sanaa, died of pneumonia and complications such as sepsis in February last year.

Prosecutors allege the Cunninghams restrained Sanaa with plastic ties, a makeshift straight jacket and shackles, forced her to wear diapers and locked her in a laundry room or outside. 

Prosecutors also claimed they used restraints to tie up Sanaa – who was seriously ill with pneumonia – which prevented her from expelling liquid from her lungs.

They also allege the parents forced her to pick up dog faeces with her bare hands and failed to treat a wound on her foot that turned septic.

They add that she was unresponsive, drooling and unable to stand when she was finally taken to hospital, where she died four hours later.

The court heard Sanaa was afflicted by schizophrenia and other behavioural disorders.

A preliminary hearing was told little Sanaa was covered with scratches and bruises. Photo: CBS5/Arizona

“There were many warning signs with regard to her need for medical attention,” Judge Michael Kemp said at last week’s hearing, according to the Phoenix Times.

“This was more than reckless behaviour.

“This was more than a failure to provide care and it led to the child’s death.”

The Weekend Australian newspaper reported Lisa Cunningham, 43, grew up in Adelaide and moved to the US after marrying an American serviceman 20 years ago.

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