Thursday, June 19, 2008

Nine years

I wrote about the life and death of Tiffany Pinckney here.

She was a young autistic woman who was neglected for years extending back into her childhood, by her sister and legal guardian Allison Cox. In the spring of 2005, Tiffany died of starvation in the place where she lived, deliberately locked into a filthy, windowless basement, with no access to a toilet, food or water. She was skin-and-bones when she died, a skeleton, and caked with dirt and feces, just like the room she was locked into. She suffered beyond what can be described in words, in the middle of a wealthy Mississauga neighbourhood, hidden underneath a fancy four-bedroom home.

She may have been dead in her basement prison for more than two days before her death was reported via a 9-11 call.

Today Allison Cox was sentenced to nine years in prison for deliberately neglecting and starving her sister Tiffany to death.

You can find information about Ms Cox's sentencing in today's Toronto Star. Here is an excerpt:

Justice Joseph Fragomeni described the circumstances of the case as among the worst he's ever experienced as a trial judge.

He said Pinckney endured a "slow, painful and lonely descent into death," and that the "graphic and disturbing photos" presented during the trial "spoke volumes" about the last days of her life.

He told Cox that society demanded that she serve a lengthy period of incarceration in a federal penitentiary for what he described as a "tragic, horrific and senseless" death of a "vulnerable" young person.

He said Pinckney was denied the "most basic" of human necessities. "She was denied food, water and medical attention," he said.

"How is it possible in a country of such wealth and abundance that a person could die from a lack of food and water?" Justice Fragomeni asked. "Tiffany didn't see a doctor for five years ... (Cox’s) breach of trust was egregious."
The question remains why Ms Cox was not charged with a more serious crime. In a November 1, 2007 story, the Toronto Star quoted John Raftery, the prosecutor, as arguing in court that:

"Not only is there enough evidence to convict her (Cox) of manslaughter but there is sufficient evidence for first-degree murder."
In 2002, a young boy called Jeffrey Baldwin died in Toronto of extreme neglect at the hands of his legal guardians. He was locked in a room, starved, "forced to sleep in his own excrement", and grossly mistreated, though unlike Tiffany, he had a toilet to drink from. Jeffrey was not autistic. His horrific death (his body was "covered with sores and abrasions" and at nearly age six weighed less than what a one year old should weigh) attracted sustained attention from the major media. No one attempted to blame his death on his own characteristics, his own needs or abilities, his own presumed level of functioning, his own behaviour, etc.

Jeffrey's guardians were originally charged with first degree murder, were convicted of second degree murder, and were required to serve 20 to 22 years in prison (close to the maximum for first degree murder) before being eligible for parole.

Nine years in prison (and two years of house arrest for Ms Cox's husband, Orlando Klass) does not seem much, against the life and death of Tiffany Pinckney, and how much she suffered for so long.

Before being deliberately neglected and starved took all her possibilities away, and when she was away from the horror of her home, Tiffany "loved music." She was "lots of fun" and "excited and happy." She was "great." I will always remember her, every day.