ELYRIA — The woman that was being paid to watch 22-month-old Annie Flynn and her cousin, then-21-month-old Jaxon Flynn, when Annie drowned was sentenced to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Elizabeth Zenda, 49, of Pittsfield Township, was found guilty of a first-degree felony count of involuntary manslaughter and two third-degree felony counts of endangering children last month by Judge James Miraldi. On Thursday, Miraldi sentenced Zenda to prison.
“This is an unhappy day for everyone, and I’m as unhappy as I could possibly be,” Miraldi said during the sentencing. “I believe I’m doing what I’m required to do under the law. With no joy do I impose this sentence.”
Zenda’s defense attorney, Doug Merrill, had asked Miraldi to not incarcerate his client, citing her prior history and that she did not commit an intentional crime.
“It’s clear that she has no prior history,” Merrill said. “While we recognize a significant and serious loss to Annie Flynn’s family, and also to Jaxon Flynn’s family, an incarcerative sentence isn’t going to change any of those outcomes. An incarcerative sentence will only compound grief and anguish.”
Assistant County Prosecutor Laura Dezort said Zenda wasn’t charged with an intentional crime, but was charged with being reckless, and that recklessness led to the death of a child.
“A sentence is about punishment,” Dezort said. “She has to be punished for her actions. She made her decisions to pay more attention to her own needs than to the needs of these children, these babies.”
Annie and Jaxon were found floating in a pool about 10:20 a.m. at Zenda’s in-home day care Oct. 5, 2016. The state said the death of Annie and the brain injuries sustained by Jaxon were the result of recklessness by Zenda, while Merrill said it was a tragic accident.
Testimony in the trial has said the children were in Zenda’s backyard while Zenda was inside the home talking with another woman. The children were left unsupervised for seven to eight minutes.
It is believed that Annie and Jaxon climbed the steps that led to the deck attached to the pool and then slipped underneath a locked gate that blocked access to the deck but had a 7-inch gap at the bottom. A plastic baby gate that was propped against the locked gate to block the gap was found lying on the deck, as if it had been pushed over.
While Annie drowned, Jaxon survived but suffered brain damage from the incident and struggles with his speech and balance, according to testimony.
Miraldi said he understands that Zenda probably doesn’t pose a threat to society and that some may think sending her to prison won’t help.
“It would seem like to some extent prison might be counterproductive,” he said. “All that being said, sometimes society demands punishment to remind others that there are serious consequences for certain conduct. Here we are dealing with the protection of children — the very responsibility the defendant had that day. This is the fact that cannot allow me to place Ms. Zenda on probation.”
Several of Annie and Jaxon’s family members addressed the court prior to Miraldi sentencing Zenda.
Patricia Flynn, the grandmother of both Annie and Jaxon, said that her family’s lives have been forever changed since the tragedy.
“I’ve seen my 4-year-old grandson perform CPR on a dinosaur because he had to witness this,” Patricia Flynn said. “The first time I took Jaxon into my pool after the incident, the following summer, Gavin screamed bloody murder, ‘Grandma, don’t let him in the pool! He can’t swim!’ I had to assure him that I was with (Jaxon) and he had his lifejacket on.”
Gavin Flynn also was under Zenda’s care the day of the incident.
Annie’s father, Zach Flynn, said it’s been difficult moving past the death of his daughter.
“Annie was the greatest child I think I have ever seen,” he said. “The fact that I was her dad just makes her even better. To be stripped of that and watch everyone struggle and never know who she is and just have 22 months of memories. … You don’t get new ones. You don’t get to rewrite it, and the pain does not end. All you can do is cope with it as much as you can each day.”
Several of Zenda’s friends also addressed the court and told Miraldi she was a “good person with a good heart.”
Zenda, herself, addressed the court prior to sentencing.
“My life changed the minute we found those babies in the pool,” she said. “I have tried to stay calm and responsible. I called the parents, only to later realize that was something I could have had the sheriffs do, but it was my responsibility.
“I have shed tears. I will continue to shed tears. I’ve done my best to help my children cope with the situation and the possibility of losing me. I just hope it was enough.”
Dezort said Zenda’s statement only proved she had no remorse.
“When she has the opportunity to accept the responsibility for her recklessness, and perhaps extend an apology, she doesn’t do that,” Dezort said. “She doesn’t think she did anything wrong, and her statement to this court shows that. Her statement was ‘my life changed.’ Her life, because it’s all about her.”
Zach Flynn said Zenda now has to face what she did.
“I’m just glad that she’s miserable for a moment,” Zach Flynn said. “I understand it’s not going to change anything or make it any better, but it’s nice that she now realizes that she’s at fault. Now she has to be punished for being reckless, and I’m just glad she has to face that.”
Matt Flynn, Jaxon’s father, echoed his brother’s sentiment.
“It’s a little bit of closure for us,” he said. “We waited two years for all this to finally come down to something. Of course, we would all want it to be a longer sentence, but it’s not going to change or fix anything. The fact that we got a jail sentence in itself brings a little bit of closure.”
Merrill said Zenda plans to appeal.
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