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Murder conviction against mother in drowning of autistic daughter overturned

A woman found guilty of drowning her autistic four-year-old daughter had that conviction overturned today and a new trial ordered by Ontario's highest court.

TORONTO - A woman found guilty of drowning her autistic four-year-old daughter had that conviction overturned today and a new trial ordered by Ontario's highest court.

Xuan Peng was sentenced in 2008 to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years after being found guilty of second-degree murder.

The girl's father, David Chen, found his daughter, Scarlett, unconscious on July 12, 2004 in a bathtub at their Toronto townhouse.

According to the Crown, Scarlett was drowned by her mother.

The defence argued unsuccessfully at trial that Scarlett drowned as a result of a tragic accident in which her mother played no part.

Today, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the jury was not properly instructed, quashed the conviction, and ordered a new trial.

"I believe that manslaughter was a viable verdict and the appellant was entitled to have the issue of her intent and the evidence surrounding it put fully and fairly to the jury. Unfortunately, it was not," the Appeal Court decision reads.

"The jury was not properly instructed on the included offence of manslaughter. Accordingly, I would allow the appeal, quash the conviction and order a new trial."

A letter submitted by Peng's husband during sentencing said he was "stunned" by the verdict and believes his wife is innocent.

During the trial, the Crown conceded the case was circumstantial, with no independent eyewitness. But bruising on the back of the child's neck indicated she had been held under water, prosecutors said.

Peng told police she put Scarlett down for a nap, filled the tub with water to clean kitchen utensils and was unaware her daughter had drowned.

The prosecution alleged Peng drowned Scarlett in a "moment of frustration and rage," because she couldn't cope with her alone.

 
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