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The Now Newspaper

SURREY - A former Surrey schoolteacher on trial for the murder of his pregnant wife staged a missing persons complaint with police in an attempt to conceal the crime, the Crown alleged Monday.

Mukhtiar Singh Panghali, 38, is being tried for second-degree murder and interfering with a dead body in the strangulation of his wife, Manjit Panghali, in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster.

The accused taught physics at Princess Margaret secondary school at the time, and his wife of nine years taught at North Ridge elementary school. She was four months pregnant at the time and the couple had a three-year-old daughter.

Crown prosecutor Dennis Murray outlined the Crown's case at the beginning of the trial on Monday morning.

It's the Crown's theory that Panghali killed his wife after she'd returned home from a prenatal yoga class, staged the discovery of her car in Whalley, burned her body on a beach in South Delta and then delayed for as long as he could to lodge a missing persons complaint with the Surrey RCMP.

His wife's charred remains were discovered along the DeltaPort Causeway several days later. The court heard that DNA evidence taken from the fetus showed Panghali was the father.

Panghali originally elected to be tried by judge and jury but last month re-elected to be tried by a judge alone.

With head shaved, and wearing a white dress shirt, Panghali listened intently from the prisoner's dock as Murray told Justice Heather Holmes that the couple had been "in the throes of some difficulty in their relationship" at the time.

He said Manjit Panghali, 30, had left for a 7 p.m. prenatal yoga class in South Surrey at about 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2006, leaving her daughter at home with her husband after he came home from the pub.

Along the way, Murray told the judge, she made four calls from her handset to the couple's landline, and that phone records will reveal she'd made them on her way to the class.

When the class was finished at 8 p.m., he said, she got into her silver Honda and was "never seen again alive."

Murray said evidence will show that the accused called an emergency health line later that night to find out if there'd been any accidents reported because his wife hadn't returned home.

The court heard he'd reported his wife missing to police "about 26 hours later." When he'd been encouraged by others to call police sooner, Murray alleged, Panghali gave various reasons why he didn't want to do that.

Murray said although Panghali told the RCMP that he'd stayed home that night looking after his daughter from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., and went to sleep at home, he was seen buying a day-old newspaper and lighter at a Chevron Town Pantry store five minutes from the couple's home during the early morning of Oct. 19.

"The accused was not telling the truth," Murray alleged.

He said the victim's car was later found at the side of a road about a two minutes' drive from the Whalley public library. When asked about his wife's yoga class, the prosecutor told the judge, Panghali thought it was at the Whalley Library. He added that the victim's car was found locked and alarmed, with the seat in a position "consistent with a large person having driven it," rather than someone with the "dimensions" of the deceased.

The Crown charges that Panghali, either on his own or assisted by "unknown persons," staged the abandonment of his wife's car in Whalley "in an effort to create" the impression she'd been there.

Murray also charged that when her handset was found it contained a different card - that of the accused - and that the only way Panghali could have got access to it is if he'd crossed paths with her after the yoga class.

The prosecutor accused Panghali of making a "concentrated effort to cover up the fact" he saw his wife after her yoga class, and tried to create an "impression" of concern.

He said he would call into evidence a press conference at the Surrey RCMP detachment.

"The contents of his comments speak for themselves."

When Panghali was asked by a reporter at the press conference why he'd waited 26 hours to call police, Murray told Holmes, his demeanor changed from "purported bereaved husband" to "defensive."

The trial continues.