By Tom Zytaruk, Surrey Now
SURREY - The Mukhtiar Panghali murder trial wrapped up in New Westminster Friday with Justice Heather Holmes expected to deliver her verdict on Jan. 14.
The former Surrey teacher is accused of murdering his pregnant wife, Manjit Panghali, and then burning her body.
The Crown finished its final arguments on Thursday and the defence's were heard Friday.
Meanwhile, arguments will be heard Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court concerning applications from media outlets, including the Surrey Now, that are seeking access to court exhibits including Panghali's videotaped interviews with the Delta Police and Surrey RCMP.
On Friday defence lawyer Michael Tammen urged Holmes not to let the assumption of his client's innocence be outweighed by the Crown's inference of his guilt.
Tammen argued that the Crown's evidence is silent on the exact circumstances of the victim's death. The Crown's case, he said, relies only on the evidence of the pathologist who performed the autopsy that she died by manual strangulation.
"That is the only evidence in this case as to the cause of death," he told the judge.
Tammen said it would be difficult for her to conclude that the accused had any intention to kill, if she indeed finds Panghali was in any way involved with his wife's death, and a manslaughter conviction would have to be the "default."
"Whatever the event was that caused death could've been started and over in a matter of 30 seconds," he said.
"The fall back is manslaughter."
But on the issue of Panghali being found guilty or not guilty, Tammen argued that the Crown's case is founded exclusively on circumstantial evidence, is "highly ambiguous, and that there are "all kinds of rational and more plausible inferences to be drawn from the evidence."
The defence lawyer addressed the Crown's presentation of his client's alleged "post-offence conduct" as "somehow consistent with guilt." For example, Panghali having waited 26 hours before calling police about his wife's disappearance, not to mention not contacting many or her friends and relatives.
Tammen noted that Manjit Panghali had left home before, and his client would have looked foolish had she checked into a hotel and came back, after he'd called all her friends and relatives.
"Imagine how foolish he'd feel?" Tammen said. "Of course he's not going to make all those calls."
His only refuge would have been to shut off his telephone, he said, as "so many people wanted to be kept in the loop."
Tammen argued that Panghali's conduct was "quite consistent" with "showing the appropriate level of concern and worry."
He also noted that Panghali had been on prescription medicine at the time that could have affected the way he reacted to people.
Tammen also charged that some of the Crown's witnesses demonstrated "palpable bias" in their testimony, as they were "understandably upset" by the tragic death.
It would be "pure folly," he warned, to think witnesses' recitation of what Panghali allegedly said to them four years ago was accurate, given memory loss and "bias."
"All that evidence comes with it's own discrete set of dangers in this court," he said.