Teacher found guilty in murder of pregnant wife
Darcy Wintonyk, ctvbc.ca
Published Friday, February 4, 2011 2:11PM PST
Family and friends of Manjit Panghali erupted into a chorus of cries Friday as a B.C. Supreme Court judge found her husband guilty of second-degree murder.
Justice Heather Holmes also found former school teacher Mukhtiar Panghali guilty of interfering with a dead body.
Manjit Panghali was 30 years old and four months pregnant with her second child when her burned corpse was discovered on a Delta beach, south of Vancouver, in Oct. 2006. Her husband was charged with the murder after a five-month investigation.
While Holmes said the Crown's case against the accused was entirely circumstantial, she said there was "powerful evidence" that the Surrey school teacher killed his wife.
Outside the courtroom, Manjit's sister said her family is trying to move forward.
"She died a brutal and senseless death at the hands of a sick and twisted and evil monster. We are comfortable with the judge's decision and feel this terrible tragedy has finally been dealt with appropriately," Jasmine Bhambra said.
During the trial, Crown prosecutors said Panghali's strange behaviour in the days after his wife's disappearance -- as well as inconsistencies in his statement to police -- proved that he violently murdered her.
The Crown alleged that Panghali tried to create the impression that he was concerned about his missing wife, while lying about his whereabouts and covering up the crime. Prosecutors said that he inundated police with calls suggesting possible suspects, including the victim's own brother.
One of the key pieces of evidence in the case was surveillance video taken at a local Chevron gas station the night of Manjit Panghali's disappearance.
While the accused maintained he stayed at home the night his wife disappeared, Justice Holmes agreed with the Crown's assertion he was the man seen on tape buying a lighter at 1 a.m.
In court, Panghali said on several occasions that he had not seen the deceased since she left for yoga class in South Surrey the night she went missing.
But Crown evidence -- and statements made by Panghali -- showed that Manjit had her cell phone with her when she left for class. By the next afternoon, her husband was using the phone, with his own SIM card inserted, and he continued to use it until it was seized by police three months after her murder.
In her decision, Justice Holmes concluded that because Manjit had her cell phone before the yoga class, the "only rational inference" is that she returned home and Panghali acquired the phone "during or after the events that then followed."
Justice Holmes said that Panghali "knew that all was not well" when he called his father-in-law to look after their young daughter the day after his wife's disappearance.
"For Ms. Panghali to not return for the night and to not take Maya to pre-school in the morning was, on all the evidence, most obviously extraordinary," Holmes wrote, adding that asking for additional childcare meant Mukhtiar knew his wife wasn't coming back home.
"He had no confidence Ms. Panghali would do so."
Forensic pathologists say Manjit was strangled to death, but not before being brutally assaulted. Her autopsy revealed there was blood in her vagina and evidence of blunt force injuries to her pelvic area and neck before she died.
Her husband waited 26 hours before reporting her disappearance.
Relief and sadness
Outside the courtroom, a spokeswoman for the Delta police said they are pleased with the court's decision but mindful that the decision re-ignites the tragedy lived by Manjit's family and friends since her death.
"This is a chapter that has long since been open but is now concluded. The Delta police also understand that there is no outcome that would numb the pain or mend the heartbreak experienced by everyone impacted by Manjit's death and that of her unborn baby," Const. Sharlene Brooks said.
Second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, but parole eligibility for Panghali has not been set.
Defense lawyer Michael Tammen said he and his client are "understandably disappointed."
"We haven't read the judgment yet. I'll read it over the weekend and consider it more fully after that," he said.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 17.