Highlighting the horror pregnant schoolteacher Manjit Panghali must have felt as she was strangled by her husband, the Crown said Thursday the man should serve 20 years in prison before he's eligible for parole.
In a blistering submission to the B.C. Supreme Court, Crown prosecutor Dennis Murray said Mukhtiar Panghali callously killed his wife inside their home and burned her body near a Delta waterway. The Crown went on to say Mr. Panghali arrogantly believed he could get away with the crime and showed no regard for others, including the couple's then three-year-old daughter.
Ms. Panghali's charred body was found in October, 2006. Her husband was convicted last month of second-degree murder and interfering with bodily remains. A second-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, but Mr. Panghali's parole eligibility must still be determined. His lawyer said parole should be set for 10 to 13 years.
Mr. Murray disagreed. "We say this case has such a plethora of aggravating factors, chilling and horrifying, and that it is so high on the scale of moral blameworthiness, that it requires a sentence toward the higher end of the range of 10 to 25 years," he told the court.
Madam Justice Heather Holmes reserved her decision until March 25.
Mr. Murray called the killing an assault on the values Canadians hold dear, arguing Mr. Panghali showed no remorse. In fact, Mr. Murray said, Mr. Panghali went for a beer with co-workers the day after the grisly incident.
The prosecutor urged the court to send a strong message for cases involving domestic violence. He said a spouse can commit such a crime behind closed doors, leaving their partner especially vulnerable.
He added that the sentence should make it clear that destruction of evidence will not be tolerated by the courts, suggesting Mr. Panghali could have faced more charges if he hadn't burned the remains.
"Manjit did not want much more than for the accused to stop drinking, be responsible, be present more in [their daughter]Maya's life," Mr. Murray said. "In our submission, he opted to cast aside this thorn in his side and he felt he was smart enough and crafty enough to play out a subsequent artifice strategy and not look back."
Days after his wife disappeared, Mr. Panghali made a tearful plea for information during a police news conference. His wife's family was also there.
Mr. Murray called the husband's actions "reprehensible," suggesting Mr. Panghali feigned emotion and treated his relatives as "pawns in a show."
Michael Tammen, Mr. Panghali's lawyer, took offence at that claim. He said his client did not call the news conference and was asked to speak by the police. When Mr. Panghali was grilled by reporters about why it took him 26 hours to report his wife missing, officers left Mr. Panghali "on the hot seat," he said.
Mr. Tammen said the Crown's claims that his client was arrogant or callous should play no role in sentencing. He noted Mr. Panghali did not have a criminal record before the incident, arguing he was a man of good character.
Since he was first arrested four years ago, Mr. Panghali has completed a number of courses in jail. Among those, Mr. Tammen said, are classes on making wise choices in parenting, and preventing violence. He also took part in a 12-step alcohol treatment program, his lawyer said.
Mr. Panghali appeared in court and said nothing during the hearing itself, chatting only briefly with his counsel.
Mr. Tammen said he would "probably" appeal the guilty verdicts against his client.
The Crown also asked that Mr. Panghali submit a DNA sample and be prohibited from owning firearms. Mr. Murray suggested a 4½- year concurrent sentence for the interference with bodily remains charge; Mr. Tammen said it should be two to three years.
Ms. Panghali's killing was one of three attacks on South Asian women in B.C. in a two-week period. Two of those incidents were fatal. The outburst of violence prompted community forums and domestic violence awareness campaigns.