13 Nov 2017

Christchurch babysitter found guilty of manslaughter

7:14 pm on 13 November 2017

A Christchurch babysitter has been found guilty of the manslaughter of a one-year-old baby who was in her care.

Shayal Upashna Sami at the High Court in Christchurch.

Shayal Upashna Sami at the High Court in Christchurch. Photo: Pool / Fairfax NZ

Shayal Upashna Sami was accused of murdering Aaliyah Ashlyn Chand in January 2015 after the infant suffered skull fractures and brain bleeding.

The verdicts came after the jury requested this afternoon to watch a video of Ms Sami arriving at the hospital with the baby.

It showed a nurse taking the infant and carrying her through the hospital, followed by Ms Sami.

Today the jury delivered a verdict of manslaughter after a two week trial. Ms Sami was tearful as the decision was translated for her.

She was granted bail and will be sentenced on 15 December.

See the Chand family's statement on the verdict, read by Detective Senior Sergeant Scott Anderson:

Sami was 18 years old and five months pregnant herself when she was employed by a Christchurch bus driver, Dev Chand, in late 2014 to baby-sit his daughter, Aaliyah.

The court heard Mr Chand would drop Aaliyah off with Ms Sami at her Worcester Street flat up to six times a week. Ms Sami shared the flat with her husband, Nilesh Ram. Both Ms Sami and Mr Ram were from Fiji.

Aaliyah's mother, Anjani Lata, lived in Wellington, but intended to move down to Christchurch to be with Mr Chand and Aaliyah.

Mr Chand said both he and Ms Lata observed Aaliyah with Ms Sami for several days before agreeing for her to be their daughter's babysitter. The court heard Ms Sami had experience working with children back in Fiji.

Mr Chand also told the court he had never had any problems prior to Aaliyah being taken to hospital on 6 January 2015.

That morning, Aaliyah was dropped off with Ms Sami as normal, but sometime during the evening, Aaliyah suffered fatal injuries, multiple skull fractures, eye and brain bleeding, and bruising on the ears and cheeks.

The Crown said this was caused by Mr Sami attacking Aaliyah, while the defence said the infant fell from a couch and hit the back of her head.

Regardless of what happened inside the flat, the court heard that Ms Sami raced outside the flat seeking help, and was rushed to Christchurch hospital by a neighbour, Behrouz Yazdani, who saw her in distress trying to use her phone.

The court heard Ms Sami did not know the phone number for emergency services.

During the trial, the court viewed CCTV footage of Ms Sami arriving at the hospital, where an off duty nurse, Helen Williamson, raced Aaliyah through the emergency department.

Aaliyah was put on life support, but never regained consciousness. She died at 8:30pm the following night with her parents by her side.

Ms Williamson told the court Aaliyah was essentially "brain dead" on arrival.

Can a baby die after falling off a couch?

Several experts were called during the trial for both the Crown and the defence to establish whether it was possible for a child to suffer such extensive injuries after falling from a couch.

The defence claimed Aaliyah was of the age where she could pull herself up, but couldn't yet walk or stand unassisted.

But a community worker, Pritam Singh, who had seen Ms Sami regularly since she moved to New Zealand in September 2014, said she had seen Aaliyah pull herself up onto the couch and take some steps while holding on the couch's back.

The defence said Aaliyah fell backwards and hit the back of her head on the carpeted floor.

One of its witnesses, Terrance Donald, told the court the baby would have collided with the ground at 22km/h. He said this would have caused "significant injuries".

However, several experts said Aaliyah's injuries were more likely from being assaulted.

A forensic pathologist, Martin Sage, said claims Aaliyah died after falling off a couch did not add up, and the injuries were more likely caused by somebody hitting Aaliyah.

"The presence of extensive bruises to the left and right side of the face is a pattern usually associated by very tight grasping by an adult hand," he told the court.

"The blunt force injuries to the back of the head would be highly compatible with inflected injury."

A statement read for the family by the police said the past two and half years had been traumatic and draining, and while there was relief in the verdict, it would not bring the infant back.

The family said today's verdicts would allow them to move forward with their lives.

In convicting Sami on the manslaughter charge, Justice Dunningham thanked the Chand family for the dignity they had shown throughout the trial.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs