British Columbia's highest court has dismissed the appeal of a man convicted of killing his pregnant wife – a ruling that left the victim's sister crying tears of relief.
"I heard the news and I just felt like I could breathe again," Jasmine Bhambra said in an interview. "You're just holding your breath until you know."
Thursday marks the sixth anniversary of the last time Manjit Panghali – Ms. Bhambra's younger sister – was seen alive, leaving a prenatal yoga class. The teacher's charred remains were found near a Delta, B.C., waterway a few days later. An autopsy determined she had been strangled.
Mukhtiar Panghali, her husband, was arrested in January of 2007 and convicted of second-degree murder in February of 2011.
The Crown's case was entirely circumstantial. The prosecutor pointed to Mr. Panghali's strange behaviour after his wife's disappearance. For instance, he didn't report her missing for 26 hours, and went for a beer with colleagues even though his wife had apparently not returned home the night before.
The Crown noted that Mr. Panghali used his wife's cellphone after she was last seen alive, and presented surveillance footage that showed him buying a lighter and newspaper the night his wife disappeared – at a time he told police he had been home.
Mr. Panghali's appeal was heard in June and the decision was delivered Tuesday. In his appeal, his lawyers argued the trial judge's decision to find him guilty was "unreasonable or unsupported by the evidence."
Among other things, they argued the trial judge erred in letting a police officer claim Mr. Panghali was the man in the surveillance footage, and said that if he did cause Ms. Panghali's death he did not have the intent required for second-degree murder.
A three-judge panel of the B.C. Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal. In the written reasons, Mr. Justice David Frankel said he, like the trial judge, was "confident" Mr. Panghali was the man in the surveillance footage. He said he could find no "palpable or overriding error in that finding of fact."
The panel also dismissed other appeal grounds raised by Mr. Panghali. It said Madam Justice Heather Holmes of the B.C. Supreme Court did not err in finding that burning the body proved intent, nor in admitting evidence related to a hematoma on Ms. Panghali.
Mr. Panghali was sentenced in March of 2011 to life in prison with no parole for 15 years. In sentencing, Judge Holmes cited the need to deter domestic violence.
Ms. Panghali was killed at a time when there was a spate of violence against Indo-Canadian women in the Lower Mainland.
Ms. Bhambra now has custody of the couple's daughter, who was three years old when her mother was killed. Ms. Bhambra said the girl is "wonderful."
Ms. Bhambra said the pain of losing her sister comes roaring back on certain days, such as Tuesday when the appeal court's ruling was delivered. She said Mother's Day has also proven difficult.
She's planning on launching a website – inspiredbymanj.com – on Thursday to honour her sister's memory.
"I will be talking about Manjit, her story. I'll be talking about domestic violence. Eventually I'll be sharing my experiences," she said. "I want it to turn into something where people can connect and share their stories about overcoming obstacles, whether it be the death of a loved one, or bullying, suicide, whatever it is."