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Cops and Courts

Woman convicted in toddler's drowning given judicial release after 10 months served (UPDATED)

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    Elizabeth Zenda hugs friends and family members present at her judicial release hearing on Wednesday morning, May 29. Zenda was granted judicial release.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Assistant Prosecutor Laura Dezort addresses Judge James Miraldi on Wednesday morning, May 29.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Lisa Phillips, maternal grandmother of Annie, addresses the court on Wednesday, May 29.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Elizabeth Zenda addresses the court on Wednesday morning, May 29 adjacent to defense attorney Doug Merrill.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Judge James Miraldi speaks during the judicial release hearing for Elizabeth Zenda on Wednesday, May 29.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Patty Flynn, paternal grandmother of Annie and Jaxon Flynn, addresses the court on Wednesday morning, May 29.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — The grandmother of a 22-month-old girl who drowned under the watch of Elizabeth Zenda shouted in grief Wednesday when Zenda was granted judicial release from prison.

Lisa Phillips called Zenda a “baby killer” and yelled that she hopes that Judge James Miraldi loses his seat before she stormed out of Miraldi’s courtroom. Her granddaughter, Annie Flynn, died and Annie’s cousin Jaxon Flynn, was severely injured.

Miraldi, who granted the release, said he understood his decision was unpopular, but that it was based on the law.

“Sometimes having to do my job, I know I am creating enemies that would like to have me removed from office,” he said. “But I have to follow the law.”

Miraldi said he could find no risk factors when considering whether to release her. He also said that releasing her early did not demean the seriousness of the offense of the crime.

“I don’t believe that Mrs. Zenda is a bad human; she will have to live with (what she did that day) forever,” she said. “But I’m not going to define her for that terrible tragedy that occurred. She has defined her life by what she has done before this occurred, and now she has the opportunity to define her life by her behavior after this occurred.”

Zenda was placed on probation for a maximum of five years. She also is not allowed to do child care unsupervised.

Zenda was sentenced to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and endangering children July 26, after Annie Flynn drowned at her Pittsfield Township home. Annie and her cousin Jaxon, then 21 months old, were both under Zenda’s care as a babysitter when they climbed into the pool Oct. 5, 2016.

Prosecutors said Annie and Jaxon climbed the steps that led to the deck attached to the pool and slipped beneath a locked gate blocking access but that had a 7-inch gap at the bottom. A plastic baby gate had been propped against the opening to block it, but it was found lying on the deck.

Annie drowned while Jaxon survived but suffered brain damage. He struggles with his speech and balance, according to testimony during the trial.

During the hearing Wednesday, Miraldi said he received multiple letters from people on both sides asking him to consider their opinions before making a decision.

Zenda herself told Miraldi that she’s been attending church, counseling and Bible studies while in prison. She read aloud a letter she wrote to God as a result of a writing prompt handed out at Bible study on Mother’s Day.

“Not a day goes by where I’m not saddened by the knowledge that we will never see Annie’s smile again,” she said. “I will never again be able to be a part of Jaxon’s milestones.”

Annie’s grandmothers, Patty Flynn and Phillips, also spoke during the hearing and pleaded with Miraldi to keep Zenda in prison. Both said Zenda had not learned a lesson because she continued to focus on herself in her remarks and not on the family hurt by her actions.

Phillips said in a prepared letter that Zenda only apologized during the judicial release hearing and never during the trial or sentencing.

“When she addressed the court at her sentencing, she had another perfect opportunity to say something, anything,” she said. “But she didn’t. Because she isn’t sorry, she just wants to get out of jail. How can we, as a family, even begin to try to forgive someone who isn’t even sorry?”

Zenda’s sentence, the women noted, was not even half as along as Annie Flynn’s life.

Contact Bruce Walton at 329-7123 or bwalton@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Facebook @BWalton440 or Twitter @BruceWalton.


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