Sobs came from the family of toddler Annie Flynn as a verdict was handed down Friday: The woman responsible for her care, Elizabeth Zenda, was guilty.
The 49-year-old Pittsfield Township resident was convicted on one count of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of child endangering — all felonies.
The decision was left in the hands of Lorain County Court of Common Pleas judge James Miraldi.
Twenty-two-month-old Flynn and 21-month-old Jaxon Flynn were found submerged in Zenda’s backyard pool at 10:21 a.m. on Oct. 5, 2016. Annie was pronounced dead at Oberlin’s Mercy Allen Hospital while Jaxon was revived by rescuers.
Zenda ran a day care center at her home on West Road for six years and had supervised Annie and Jaxon for a little more than one year.
During a three-day trial, prosecutors showed the toddlers had squeezed through a seven-inch gap between the pool’s deck and the bottom of a swing gate. Annie had gone under the gate at least one other time prior to the tragedy, which led Zenda to lean a plastic baby gate against the inside of the swing gate as a deterrent.
That baby gate was found tipped over on the deck after the drownings, according to testimony. Investigators and medical examiners agreed the plastic baby gate was not an adequate response to the danger of a pool.
Asked under oath what level of protection the baby gate provided, Det. Dave Lottman of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office answered: “None. It wasn’t a solution at all.”
Investigators also established that Annie had previously injured her finger at the home to the point of needing it surgically repaired and that another child under Zenda’s supervision had swallowed a quarter.
“Maybe Annie demanded more of her attention and she just didn’t want to deal with her,” said Lorain County assistant prosecutor Laura Dezort.
“Jaxon also had no pulse and wasn’t breathing when he was pulled out,” she said, describing brain damage the child suffered. “He came within an eyelash of being the second child to die in her custody. Who knows what his future holds? This is a child whose speech isn’t as good now as it was before this happened — a child that essentially had to reset to being a baby again.”
Zenda testified that she had no formal child supervision training.
She admitted to regularly staying inside her house as children stayed outside in a backyard play area and checking on them periodically as she completed other daily tasks.
On the day Annie drowned, she was alone in the backyard with Jaxon and two other children, ages 27 months and three years.
Defense attorney Doug Merrill contended that the death and injury was a tragic accident, but one that Zenda had taken enough precaution against to clear her of criminal negligence or recklessness.
“Det. Lottman said my client did not disregard the risk,” he told the court. “The baby gate worked as a deterrent for four months. The evidence has shown my client did not just sit in the house and watch TV and that she checked on those children as often as eight times in 40 minutes. We have to consider if this case is based on a result or the mental state of Ms. Zenda.”
Miraldi immediately ruled following the closing arguments.
“I’m not here to call the defendant a bad person. But a heedless indifference to potential consequences was shown here,” he said. “The defendant did recognize a risk but the things we’re talking about only require basic common sense. I’d like to know who certified this place as a day care. Temptations and distractions exist in a home environment that don’t exist in a day care business. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security.”
Sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 26. Zenda could receive a sentence ranging from probation to 14 years in jail.
Following adjournment, Annie’s grandmother, Lisa Phillips of Elyria, touched on her family’s ongoing grieving process.
“Hopefully, this will give my daughter a little bit of closure,” she said. “It’s been very difficult for her. It’s been very difficult for all of us. Annie lived with me on days she stayed with her mother. It will never be the same for us and the house seems so empty but this is a step in the right direction. It’s day-to-day for us. They say time heals all wounds but it doesn’t. Families need to remember to love each other and cherish each other because you never know what each day holds.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.