A former Adelaide mother who faces the death penalty in the US for the death of her stepson said that the seven-year-old child was prescribed a pill by a doctor who made her sleep for 20 hours a day.
Prison guard and pastor Lisa Marie Cunningham, 43, could be the first Australian woman to be sentenced to death if she was found guilty of killing Sanaa who was mentally ill in February last year.
Speaking openly for the first time, he claimed authorities were aware of Sanaa's declining condition, acute schizophrenia, long before his death.
The six-year-old Mannum-born mother claimed she and her husband – a former Phoenix robbery detective, Germayne Cunningham, 39 – were not guilty of the first-degree murder that allegedly occurred in his hometown of Arizona.
Cunningham said the family watched Sanaa change from "normal, excited six years" to being a dangerous, self-harmed child who attacked their pet dog.
"He forgot how to do basic tasks such as turning the doorknob or opening a bottle of water," he told Matt Doran of Seven Network Saturday night from the maximum security Estrella Women's Prison, where she remains in solitary confinement.
"For 10 months the state of Arizona was at home we witnessed its decline.
"They know what's happening," Call the doctor. Find care. Don't give up & # 39; "
His lawyer, Eric Kessler, claimed the doctor who prescribed the adult antipsychotic drug Risperdal never examined it.
Cunningham said he had to bury his son because "nobody considered him serious".
"We jumped up and down, saying something was wrong," he said.
"I am irrational and I am hysterical with these people because they cannot give me a bottle of pills and take my six-year-old home so that he sleeps for 20 hours a day.
"And then when he died of the symptoms of Risperdal, we killed him. That doesn't make sense. Nobody was killed. Nothing is misused. "
Blood infections and pneumonia are blamed for Sanaa's death.
Their children remain in state care.
Asked how "realistic" was the death sentence – which was opposed by the Australian Government – Mrs. Cunningham replied: "You know, I think … I think that, I think that doesn't make sense, but do I think things don't happen logically? Right "
Mr Kessler, who has tried 20 cases of capital punishment, told the program he had "never seen a parody of worse justice".
"Lisa is not a criminal," he said. "He is a loving mother. Australians must be horrified. "
The Cunninghams will remain in prison until their July 2020 trial.
Sanaa Cunningham is a very sick little girl. At the age of six he was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia. Lisa says she and Germayne watched a happy, healthy and normal little girl slowly slip away. They said Sanaa began to hurt herself, scratched her skin, gouged her eyes. Even heard a voice that urged him to kill.
Eric Kessler, Lisa's lawyer, told me that Sanaa would defecate throughout the house and apply it. He will spin on his knees, tear the skin from his knees and legs. He once tried to hurt a family dog.
Lisa and Germayne decided to pull the little girl out of her school in Phoenix, to her homeschool. But Sanaa's condition continued to deteriorate. Finally they visited a psychologist who gave Sanaa a strong adult antipsychotic, called Risperdal – known to have side effects such as pneumonia, and worse.
But when Sanaa's health changed from bad to worse, there was suspicion in the neighborhood whether Lisa and Germayne really were loving parents as they claimed.
On Friday, February 10, 2017, Lisa Cunningham found Sanaa weak against her playpen in her house in the suburbs of Phoenix. He can't open his eyes. He drooled. They called doctor Sanaa – the same doctor who had prescribed strong adult antipsychotics. The staff advised Sanaa's parents to watch her, and take her on Monday. The next day, Sanaa became catatonic. His body is cold to the touch. Lisa Cunningham could not read from the thermometer, so she surrounded her stepdaughter with a bottle of warm water.
Lisa rushed to Sanaa for urgent care, around 1am, then to the hospital. A few hours later, at around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday 12 February 12, he died.
At first, there was nothing suspicious. An autopsy found the little girl had dozens of cuts and wounds from her legs, on her head, but Cunninghams said this was caused by herself and as a result of schizophrenia. The coroner found a possible cause of death to be sepsis – blood infection – and pneumonia (Risperdal side effects). But acting on a number of complaints, the police will eventually take a closer look at what life is like in the Cunningham family's home. And they will ask three key questions: is Sanaa being ignored, does she receive the best care, and does her parents act fast enough when they realize that she is seriously ill.
Prosecution facts, obtained by Saturday night, alleging that Sanaa had effectively lived in a house of horror for two years before she died. Details of alleged abuse will be revealed on our program tonight, along with some surprising allegations from neighbors. And as you can see, I asked some unpleasant questions to Lisa. Is this little girl too much financial and emotional burden? Could it be that Lisa and Germayne made the decision that it might be easier to let it go?
The Arizona prosecutor has demanded the death penalty for Lisa and Germayne Cunningham. It is very rare for them to push for the death penalty unless they think it is a realistic opportunity of conviction.
If Arizona gets its way, Lisa Cunningham will be the first Australian woman in US history to be put to death. I visited the desert where execution would take place, Florence State Prison, somewhere known as & # 39; City of Death & # 39 ;. There have been 14 executions with lethal injections in Florence since 2010. One hundred and twenty-three inmates are now enjoying their last days at the death penalty, waiting for their last meal. Only three of them are women.
Saturday night very scarce access in prison, escorted through a gate to a complex known as Unit 9 Housing, or the death room.
The last execution carried out in Arizona was four years ago. To describe a failed process will be a dirty statement. Prisoner – a murderer named Joseph Wood – spent almost two hours dying. It should take 10 minutes. It was supposed to be an injection – instead it was 15. The people in the viewing gallery described hearing him gasping and snorting the air.
Maricopa County lawyer, Bill Montgomery is not converted. When I asked him whether the state's death penalty system was damaged, he even floated the possibility of returning to the firing squad.
There is not enough public evidence to say exactly how or why seven-year-old Sanaa Cunningham died. The prosecutor signaled a burdensome text message between Lisa and Germayne. The defense rejected these rumors, seriously questioning the validity of the messages and described them as defective monumental investigations, supported by the failure of the amazing police to notify the court of Sanaa's death time.
What is certain is whether someone failed Sanaa. In the game of inevitable blame that will soon be removed in court, that sad fact must not be forgotten. There are so many unanswered questions. What, in 2018, did a child die of blood infection and pneumonia that could be prevented? Why does Sanaa prescribe strong adult antipsychotics in the first place, and is she properly evaluated? Lisa's lawyer said the doctor who prescribed did not evaluate it at all. If true, the doctor should not only be released from the registry, but may accuse himself.
Is the medical community sufficient for children with acute schizophrenia? Are Lisa and Germayne enough? If Sanaa is as sick as claimed, why doesn't she give up on the care of an institution, to people who are well trained to care for her? Why did the authorities take so long to file a claim? Is this a case of special treatment for Germayne, a former Phoenix police officer? Are these cases of police, prosecutors and child services trying to cover up their own failures? Cunninghams supporters say the state murder theory is a house of cards that will quickly collapse in court. Opponents insist Sanaa's parents are exactly where they are, and must pay the highest price.
"How realistic do you think the prospect of the death penalty is?" I asked Lisa.
"You know, I thought … I thought that, I thought it was illogical, but did I think things that were not logical happened? Right."