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Crown seeks to weave web around accused wife-killer

Every cover-up has a mistake and Mukhtiar Panghali made several after killing his pregnant wife, a Crown lawyer alleged in his closing argument Thursday.

The prosecutor accused Mr. Panghali of feigning concern after his wife Manjit first disappeared, all the while pointing the finger at others. Ms. Panghali's death came at a time when the Crown said she was exerting new-found independence and expressing a desire to build a life that didn't centre on her husband.

Mr. Panghali was charged with second-degree murder after his wife's charred corpse was found near a Delta waterway on Oct. 23, 2006. The elementary school teacher was four to five months pregnant when she died.

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Mr. Panghali's B.C. Supreme Court trial began last month in New Westminster. The defence, which is scheduled to make its closing argument Friday, did not call any witnesses and Mr. Panghali did not testify.

Dennis Murray, the Crown prosecutor, used his final submission to tell the court that while the case against Mr. Panghali is circumstantial, the evidence points squarely to him.

"In every cover-up, there's usually a mistake. In our respectful submission, there are a series of mistakes in this cover-up," he said.

The coroner who performed the autopsy on Ms. Panghali's body earlier testified that she had been strangled. Her body was set on fire after her death, the coroner said, a conclusion he reached because there was no soot in her airways.

Mr. Murray said the accused told a number of people he didn't hear from his wife after she left for a yoga class on the evening of Oct. 18 and that she had her cellphone with her at the time. Mr. Murray said cellphone records show Mr. Panghali used his wife's phone the next day and switched out her SIM card.

The Crown said Mr. Panghali told friends that he hadn't left his home the night his wife disappeared. Video evidence from a gas station located a few minutes from the Panghali home shows Mr. Panghali buying a lighter and a newspaper, Mr. Murray said. The defence earlier raised questions about the identity of the man in the clip.

Ms. Panghali's vehicle was found near a recreation centre, but not the one she'd gone to for the yoga class. Mr. Murray accused Mr. Panghali of planting the vehicle at the venue he thought she'd visited.

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After Ms. Panghali was killed at her home, the Crown lawyer said, Mr. Panghali didn't call police. He instead called the B.C. Ambulance Service and offered the vehicle's licence plate number, but no other personal information.

"By this artifice, he is able to create the impression that he's looking for her without taking the risk that someone was going to come to his house," Mr. Murray said.

After Ms. Panghali's body was eventually found, her husband told police he had never been near the Delta port where she was discovered. Mr. Murray pointed to a witness who said Mr. Panghali picked him up from the site one year earlier.

Finally, Mr. Panghali was accused of going for a beer the day after his wife went missing. Another witness testified, the Crown said, that Mr. Panghali had said he raced straight home after work to try to locate his wife.

The judge interrupted Mr. Murray at several points, asking for clarification as he attempted to link the alleged inconsistencies together. The defence has said the case against Mr. Panghali is not strong.

Mr. Murray told the court Ms. Panghali's diary showed she was becoming more independent and was trying to develop a life around her and her children. The couple had a daughter in preschool when Ms. Panghali died.

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"We will never know what happened," Mr. Murray said, "but the logical conclusion is the deceased died at the hands of the accused."

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