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Man who killed pregnant wife sentenced to life in prison

Citing the need to deter domestic violence, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has sentenced Mukhtiar Panghali to life in prison with no parole for 15 years for killing his pregnant wife.

Mr. Panghali was convicted last month of second-degree murder and interfering with bodily remains. His wife Manjit's charred body was found near a Delta waterway in October, 2006. A second-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, but Mr. Panghali's parole eligibility still had to be determined. The Crown argued for 20 years; the defence, 10 to 13 years.

Madam Justice Heather Holmes settled on a number between those recommendations, and agreed with the Crown that the fact the crime was committed against Mr. Panghali's spouse was an aggravating factor.

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"Because offences of spousal violence often take place within the home, as this one did, they may be all the more difficult to investigate and prosecute. In many situations, there will be no witnesses to the offence and the offender will have the opportunity to delay in making a report and thus to conceal evidence of the offence. I agree with [Crown prosecutor Dennis] Murray that deterrence is, therefore, all the more important."

Judge Holmes said on Friday that Mr. Panghali's conduct after his wife's death as "chilling." He waited more than a day to report Ms. Panghali missing and the Crown accused him of deflecting blame on others, including the victim's family.

The judge said there are no words to describe the loss felt by the couple's then-three-year-old daughter Maya. "It is difficult, indeed, to imagine how Maya will later work through the psychological and emotional challenges associated with a growing understanding that her own father not only strangled her mother, but also burned her mother's body and left it to be found by passersby."

Judge Holmes said the factors in the case "called for the strongest message of condemnation and deterrence." In addition to the 15 years of parole ineligibility for the second-degree murder conviction, Mr. Panghali was sentenced to 3½ years of ineligibility for interfering with bodily remains. The sentences, however, will be served concurrently. Mr. Panghali has already spent four years in custody, meaning he will be eligible for parole in 2022.

Jasmine Bhambra, Ms. Panghali's older sister who now cares for Maya, said the sentence was fitting.

"It's not going to bring Manjit back, but he's going to be in jail for a very long time. Can't ask for anything more than that right now," she said.

Mr. Murray said he hoped the sentence would serve as a deterrent to domestic violence.

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"I think what we said during the course of the sentencing submissions is true, and that is nobody's more vulnerable than a spouse behind closed doors and no one's more vulnerable to destruction of evidence than a spouse behind closed doors, and both of those elements were present in this case."

Ms. Panghali's killing was one of three high-profile attacks on South Asian women in B.C. in a two-week period. Two of those incidents were fatal. The attacks resulted in a series of community forums and awareness campaigns.

South Asian activists have said they believe the situation has improved since the October, 2006, incidents, with greater dialogue and less of a tendency to blame the victim.

After the guilty verdicts, Mr. Panghali's lawyer, Michael Tammen, said he would likely appeal. His co-counsel, Joven Narwal, confirmed Friday that a notice of appeal will be filed in the next month, although he did not specify on what grounds.

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