Oppal insisted that Panghali face second degree murder charge
Wally Oppal
FORMER solicitor general Kash Heed told Asian Journal this week that then-attorney general Wally Oppal made the right decision to reject the Criminal Justice Branch’s proposal to accept a plea to the lesser offence of manslaughter by Mukhtiar Panghali, a physics teacher at Surrey’s Princess Margaret secondary school, in the October 2006 murder of his wife, Manjit, 30, a school teacher at Surrey’s North Ridge elementary school.
“In January 2009, the Criminal Justice Branch concluded based on its review of the prosecution file at the time, that accepting an offered plea to manslaughter would constitute a fair and principled resolution to the case,” according to the Criminal Justice Branch’s press statement on Monday (January 7).
But Oppal rejected that proposal and insisted that Panghali be prosecuted on the charge of second degree murder.
Mukhtiar Panghali
Oppal was vindicated as Panghali was convicted of second degree murder by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes in February 2011. The following month the judge ruled that Panghali would have to serve 15 years of his life sentence before he would be eligible for parole.
And last October, the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by Panghali that the court should acquit him and order a new trial or substitute the second-degree murder conviction for a conviction of manslaughter.
The facts regarding the plea and the appointment of Dennis Murray as a special prosecutor in the case were released only on Monday by the Criminal Justice Branch “to safeguard the integrity of the trial and any associated appeals process, as well as the fair trial interests of Mr. Panghali,” according to the CJM’s Communications Counsel Neil MacKenzie.
Manjit Panghali
HEED told me that in his opinion “we need more of these politicians using their background and experience making decisions, not the bureaucrats making decisions.”
He added: “Politicians who have an extraordinary background on a subject matter need to use that background to make decisions in government. The unfortunate role politicians in British Columbia play is that they think along the lines of politics: what political advantage can they get out of making a decision.”
Heed slammed the bureaucrats, noting: “The bureaucrats that are running government right now are part of the problem. Whereas the bureaucrats are controlling what the politicians are to say and do, rather than the politicians taking leadership and saying ‘this is the way it’s going to be’ and giving direction to the bureaucrats.”
OPPAL in his February 10, 2009 letter to Robert Gillen, assistant deputy attorney general of the Criminal Justice Branch, wrote: “Having reviewed all the available evidence, I disagree with the view of the Branch. It is my opinion that there remains a strong, solid case of substance to present to the Court, and that there continues to be a substantial likelihood of conviction on the charge of second degree murder.”
Oppal added: “It is also my opinion that it is in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution on the charge of second degree murder.”
Oppal ordered Gillen: “Therefore, pursuant to Section 5 of the Crown Counsel Act, this letter is my directive to you to retain an experienced criminal lawyer in British Columbia who is not an employee of the provincial government to continue with the conduct of the trial until its conclusion, and any subsequent appeal that may arise there from.”
Kash Heed
THE Crown theory was that Mukhtiar Panghali strangled his wife Manjit when she returned home from her pre-natal yoga class about 8 p.m. on October 18, 2006. She had left her Surrey home around 6:30 p.m. for the yoga class, leaving her daughter at home with her husband after he came home from the pub.
The Crown alleged that Panghali staged the discovery of her car. The seat was found to have been adjusted for a much larger driver than Manjit. He then burned her body on a beach in South Delta.
Manjit’s charred remains were found along the DeltaPort Causeway five days after she disappeared. She was four months pregnant and DNA from her fetus proved that the father was Panghali.
In 2011, Holmes found Panghali guilty on one count of second-degree murder and one count of interference with a dead body in connection with the death of Manjit.
Crown prosecutor Dennis Murray called the murder of Manjit and the attempted cover-up by Mukhtiar as inexplicable and exceptionally horrific and noted that his cold and calculating plan was to save himself at all costs.
He pointed out the complete absence of remorse on Mukhtiar’s part and the series of “callous and heartless denigrations” that he engaged in, blaming his wife for their marital problems and blaming other suspects.
Murray said that it was possible that he might have got away with the murder if he hadn’t made the mistakes of appearing on a gas station surveillance video and using his wife’s cellphone after she disappeared.
Holmes said that the Crown’s case was entirely circumstantial. But she noted that there was powerful evidence that Panghali was the person who killed Manjit. She pointed out that the fact that considerable force was used against a much smaller person shows that Panghali meant to cause her bodily harm or death.
The fact that Panghali lied to police about leaving the house after his wife went missing but was then seen on video surveillance at a gas station was proof of his guilt. She said that after she watched the video evidence from the trial she was convinced the man was Panghali.
The fact that Panghali got his wife’s cellphone after the time he claimed he last saw her, made Holmes conclude that Panghali took it from her after she returned from yoga.