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Pregnant woman was strangled, then burned, court hears

A forensic pathologist has testified that a pregnant woman whose badly burned body was found on a British Columbia beach was likely strangled.

Dr. Charles Lee provided the testimony in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday at the second-degree murder trial of Mukhtiar Panghali.

Mr. Panghali is accused of killing his wife, Manjit. She went missing on Oct. 18, 2006, after apparently telling her husband she was going to a prenatal class. The elementary school teacher's body was found on a South Delta beach five days later.

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Dr. Lee performed an autopsy on Ms. Panghali's body and told the court he found bruises and bone fractures in her neck.

"Those features are typically seen in cases of strangulation," he said.

In sometimes grisly testimony, Dr. Lee said Ms. Panghali's back and pelvis in particular suffered a great deal of fire damage. Her eyes also burned away.

Dr. Lee said Ms. Panghali was likely dead before she was burned because there was no soot in her airway.

Dr. Lee, who works for Vancouver General Hospital and has testified at a number of trials, said Ms. Panghali's fetus was 16 to 20 weeks old at the time of death. He said the fetus appeared to be female.

Mr. Panghali's trial, which began on Monday, is scheduled to run for four weeks. He is being tried before a judge alone and the trial is expected to hear from 25 witnesses.

Mr. Panghali, also a teacher, reported his wife missing 26 hours after she was last seen.

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Earlier this week, court heard a police interview in which Mr. Panghali described his stormy marriage and expressed concern about a relationship his wife had with another man. During the interview, which was recorded two days before Ms. Panghali's body was found, Mr. Panghali said his wife twice ran away and spent nights away from their home.

Mr. Panghali's defence lawyers tried to chip away at Dr. Lee's experience. At one point, the forensic pathologist was asked if he had ever conducted an autopsy on a pregnant woman whose body had been burned. He acknowledged he had not.

"It's definitely not a simple case," Dr. Lee said.

Dr. Lee wrapped up his testimony Wednesday afternoon and was followed in the witness box by two RCMP officers, one of whom found Ms. Panghali's missing vehicle and another who examined it.

The Mounties said the vehicle was parked legally and did not appear to have any damage or show any sign of forced entry.

Mr. Panghali, dressed in a white shirt and black pants, sat quietly throughout the proceedings, chatting briefly with his lawyers on a couple of occasions.

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