Harry Randhawa’s eyes welled with tears as he spoke of his murdered teenage cousin moments after her killer was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 16 years.
“We’re happy with the judge’s decision, as far as happiness can go. There’s no joy in this for us, Randhawa said. ”Over 14 years, we’ve gone through tremendous suffering.“
“That sends a strong message that does tell everyone around us that our daughters matter, our sisters matter — that you can’t harm somebody that people care about, that people love, without doing tremendous damage,” he added.
The sentence, handed down in British Columbia Supreme Court on Wednesday, wraps up 14 years of investigations and court proceedings in the quest to put 18-year-old Poonam Randhawa’s ex-boyfriend behind bars.
Randhawa’s killer, 35-year-old Ninderjit Singh, stood with eyes fixed on the ground as the judge read his sentence.
In his ruling, BC Supreme Court Justice Bruce Butler said Singh continually put his own interests above those of the victim’s family and prolonged their fear and suffering, a key reason why he did not follow the defence recommendation that Singh be eligible for parole after 10 years.
Butler said Ninderjit Singh displayed few true signs of remorse or rehabilitation, considering he spent 12 years attempting to evade police and continued to bully the women in his life.
Singh’s 23-year-old Canadian-born wife, whom he met and married while on the run from police in the U.S., burst into sobs as he was escorted into custody.
There were no signs of emotion from Singh, however, who court heard last month shot Randhawa in 1999 at point-blank range with an illegal semi-automatic handgun in the back of a friend’s car.
The then-21 year old dumped Randhawa’s body in a pile of shattered glass in a Vancouver alleyway, before disappearing across the border to the United States.
The court heard the murder was motivated by jealousy — Singh was outraged that Randhawa had stopped seeing him when she changed schools. Singh stalked the teen for days leading up to Jan. 26, 1999 finally tracking her down for that final, fatal confrontation.
Singh spent the next 12 years on the run from the law in places like Washington and California, the court heard he gained 65 pounds, grew his beard and hair, lived under an alias, and even attempted to undergo an operation to alter his fingerprints before he was caught.
He was arrested in August 2011 and extradited back to Canada to face the murder charge.
Singh pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder, which comes with an automatic life sentence. All that was left for the judge to decide was the number of years Singh would serve in jail before being eligible for parole.
While defence lawyer Russ Chamberlain was seeking the minimum period of 10 years, the Crown wanted a tougher sentence and asked for 17 to 20 years.
The Crown argued Singh had a history of violence with women in his life, citing another occasion where he’d pushed Randhawa to the ground, kicked and punched her outside her home.
The defence claimed the death of Singh’s father and his “dysfunctional” upbringing should be taken into account, as should his role as an upstanding father, husband and member of his local Sikh temple.
His crime, Chamberlain argued, stemmed from “human emotions, jealousy and a desire to control others.”
“It wasn’t a cruel hunting down of this woman to kill her,” he added.
Crown lawyer Sandra Cunningham said she’s “very satisfied” with the judge’s decision because it finally brings some closure for the victim’s family.
“We are extremely relieved for Poonam Randhawa’s family and friends, that their long ordeal is finally over. We are grateful to the Vancouver City police department ... for (their) tireless commitment to finding Ninderjit Singh,” Cunningham said.
“Our system of justice has prevailed,” she said. “Even after 14-and-a-half years.”
Harry Randhawa said his family can finally breathe again now that they’ve received justice.
“As of today we move forward as a family — we look toward the future and remember the beautiful things that Poonam did in her life, what she meant to us, ” Randhawa said, speaking on behalf a large crowd of friends and family members who attended the sentencing.
“We have tremendous gratitude to the VPD and every police officer who worked on this case from start to finish and didn’t give up,” he said, his voice choking.
“There’s no words to explain how devastated our entire family has been, particularly my aunt and uncle. It’s been a horrendous ordeal and the pain of her loss will continue for the rest of our lives. She was an integral part of our family. She’ll always be missed.”