Wally Oppal refused lesser plea from B.C. wife-killer
Former Attorney General Wally Oppal shown in an undated photo. (CTV)
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, January 7, 2013 2:42PM PST
Last Updated Monday, January 7, 2013 3:09PM PST
A B.C. man accused of killing his pregnant wife and burning her body offered to plead guilty to manslaughter, but the attorney general at the time, Wally Oppal, refused the offer and ordered him tried on a charge of second-degree murder.
The revelation is contained in a statement released Monday by the Criminal Justice Branch involving the case of Mukhtiar Singh Panghali, who was accused in the death of his 30-year-old wife, Manjit Panghali, in October 2006.
The statement said Crown prosecutors were willing to accept the plea offer because they didn't think there was enough evidence to prove a charge of second-degree murder, but Oppal disagreed.
"It is my opinion that there remains a strong, solid case of substance to present to the court, and that there continues to be a substantial likelihood of conviction," Oppal wrote in a Feb. 10, 2009 letter to his assistant deputy, Robert Gillen.
"It is also my opinion that it is in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution on the charge of second-degree murder," Oppal added.
After his intervention, Gillen appointed Dennis Murray as a special prosecutor to take charge of the case "to ensure there was no risk of real or perceived improper influence in the exercise of prosecutorial responsibilities," the justice branch statement said.
Manjit Panghali, who was four months pregnant with her second child, disappeared after a prenatal yoga class in the fall of 2006 and her charred remains were later found by a road in Delta.
Mukhtiar Panghali, a high school science teacher, made a tearful plea during a news conference after her body was discovered, asking for tips that might lead to the killer.
He was charged five months later with second-degree murder.
After Oppal refused to accept a plea to a lesser charge, Panghali went to trial in B.C. Supreme Court and was convicted of second-degree murder on Feb. 4, 2011.
Judge Heather Holmes ruled that despite a lack of direct proof, there was enough circumstantial evidence to find Panghali guilty.
Holmes pointed out that Panghali used his wife's cellphone after she disappeared and that he was seen in video surveillance taken at a gas station that night buying a lighter and a newspaper, despite telling police he was at home the entire time.
In her ruling, Holmes said Panghali's conduct the day after his wife disappeared indicated that he knew much more about what happened to her than he'd admitted.
"I conclude that the only rational inference from the body of evidence as a whole is that Mr. Panghali killed Ms. Panghali. The body of evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that he did so," Holmes said in her verdict.
Panghali appealed his conviction, but the appeal was rejected last October.