'There needs to be justice': Family of B.C. girl calling for appeal following mother's acquittal in murder trial

Warning: Disturbing content

All over the walls and shelves at Steve Rosa’s Metro Vancouver home, the smiling face of his little girl beams out from dozens of framed photos.

“She was full of life. She was always on the go,” he said of Aaliyah Rosa. “She was loved by everybody.”

Rosa last saw the seven-year-old alive on July 22, 2018, when he dropped her off for a scheduled visit with her mother, Kerryann Lewis, who had two unsupervised visits a week with the little girl at the time. The child's body was found that evening at Lewis’s Langley apartment. On Sept. 3 of this year, a Supreme Court Justice acquitted Lewis of first-degree murder in her daughter’s death.

On Tuesday, Rosa spoke with CTV News Vancouver about the case, and shared his disappointment in the verdict.

“A lot of confusion and anger and shock when she said not guilty. I just couldn’t understand,” he said. “It brings me right back to day one.”

In her reasons for judgement, Justice Martha Devlin outlined how the little girl’s wet body, clothed in a pink bathrobe, shorts, and underwear, was found next to the ensuite bathtub. Devlin said the little girl had two drugs in her system, including Ativan, which was found in the apartment, and which Lewis filled an emergency prescription for that morning.

Devlin found as a fact Lewis gave drugs to her daughter, but did not find she planned to kill her.

“Another reasonable and plausible theory is that Ms. Lewis gave Aaliyah the drugs to to subdue or relax Aaliyah, in order to keep Aaliyah quiet while Ms. Lewis dealt with her own emotional distress,” Devlin said.

Devlin also found a defence theory regarding a pre-existing condition known as arrested hydrocephalus was a plausible factor that may have contributed to the little girl's death.

The court also heard Aaliyah had injuries to her head and neck. Devlin said there was no evidence showing how or when those occurred.

“The defence submits that the circumstantial evidence supports a reasonable and plausible theory that Aaliyah accidentally incurred a mild head trauma, which triggered a ‘vicious cycle’ of edema and cerebral swelling,” Devlin said, and added a possible scenario included Aaliyah losing her balance and falling into the bath due to the effect of the drugs, the effects triggered by the head injury, or both combined.

“While it may be shocking to think that Ms. Lewis would leave her own daughter lying on the bathroom floor upon discovering her in the water, without seeking assistance, that does not logically lead to the only reasonable conclusion, considering all of the evidence, being that Ms. Lewis drowned Aaliyah. There is no evidence from which I can conclude that Aaliyah was either alive or dead at the time Ms. Lewis found her in the water, and there are other reasonable and plausible inferences that can be drawn, such as panic, embarrassment or shame, or fear of false accusation.”

Rosa said he wants someone held accountable for his daughter’s death, and hopes to see an appeal of the verdict.

“I don’t want it to go away quietly, that’s for sure,” he said. “Something more needs to happen. There needs to be justice for Aaliyah.”

Thousands have now signed on to an online petition started by a family friend calling for an appeal in the case.

In a statement sent to CTV News, Aaliyah’s aunt Kim Rosa shared memories of her young niece, and her own call for justice.

“Even with the simplest things, her joy was genuine and contagious,” she wrote, adding Aaliyah always made her laugh and was full of energy, but still loved to snuggle. “Our entire legal system let Aaliyah down.”

Steve Rosa said the outcome of the case has affected everybody who loves Aaliyah.

“Everybody is definitely upset,” he said “A lot of people are very angry.”

The Cown has 30 days to file a notice of appeal. The BC Prosecution Service said it is reviewing the verdict, and no decision has been made yet.

Rosa said he is grateful for the work of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team and prosecutors, and that getting justice for his daughter is “everything” to him.

“She’s not here anymore. She can’t speak for herself,” he said. “It’s just not fair.”