By Jennifer Saltman, The Province
Manjit Panghali’s family and friends burst into tears when a judge found her husband Mukhtiar guilty of killing her and burning her body on a beach off Deltaport Way.
Panghali, 39, was charged with second-degree murder and interference with a dead body.
Justice Heather Holmes delivered her verdict in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster Friday.
Manjit disappeared after attending a prenatal yoga class in south Surrey on Oct. 18, 2006. She was four months pregnant with her second child. Her remains were found five days later.
An autopsy determined that the 31-year-old had been strangled to death before her body was set on fire.
Holmes said in her verdict that the Crown’s case was entirely circumstantial.
“There is no direct evidence about what happened after Ms. Panghali drove away from the yoga studio,” Holmes said.
However she said there was “powerful evidence” that Panghali was the person who killed Manjit.
During the trial Crown prosecutor Dennis Murray showed video of a man entering a Chevron Town Pantry the night Manjit disappeared and purchasing a newspaper and a lighter.
Holmes said that after watching video evidence from the trial she was convinced the man was Panghali.
“I looked hard for any inconsistencies ... I could find none. The man in the convenience store footage is Mr. Panghali,” she said.
Holmes added that his failure to mention the outing to police “could not have been a mere oversight.”
Another important piece of evidence was the fact that Panghali ended up with his wife’s cellphone after the time he claimed he last saw her. Holmes concluded that Panghali took it from Manjit after she returned from yoga.
“The evidence provides no basis for any other conclusion,” she said.
Although some of Panghali’s behaviour was consistent with covering for someone else, Holmes said there was no evidence of such an alternative.
The only rational inference is that Panghali killed Manjit, Holmes concluded.
On the topic of whether Panghali should be convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter, Holmes said the fact that “considerable” force was applied to the neck of a much smaller person shows Panghali meant to cause her bodily harm or death.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 17. There is a mandatory life sentence for murder, but Murray said outside court that he will ask for more than the mandatory 10 years of parole ineligibility.