Mukhtiar Panghali wiped away tears as he told police about the night his wife Manjit disappeared and the next morning when she was not there for their preschool daughter Maya.
“I loved her, you know. I just want her back in our life,” he told RCMP Constable Lyndsay O’Ruairc.
But during the one-hour and 10 minute interview, he also described a stormy marriage and expressed doubts about a relationship his wife had with another man. He portrayed his wife as an angry, volatile woman who was upset about his drinking, and on two previous occasions ran away from him to spend nights away from home.
A video of Mr. Panghali’s interview with police was shown on Tuesday, the second day of his trial on a charge of second-degree murder in the death of his 30-year old wife. The trial before a judge alone is expected to hear from about 25 witnesses over the next four weeks.
Mr. Panghali, a physics teacher, reported his wife missing 26 hours after she was last seen on Oct. 18, 2006. She had told him that she was going to a prenatal class. Her charred body was discovered in South Delta on Oct. 23, 2006. Ms. Panghali, a Surrey Grade 1 teacher, was four months pregnant.
In the courtroom, Mr. Panghali was clean-shaven. He had shaved his head as well. In the video, he wore a black Sikh head covering and had a black beard.
The videotaped interview took place on Oct. 21, 2006, two days before Ms. Panghali’s remains were found. Mr. Panghali appears relaxed at the beginning of the interview as he tells police about the stresses in his wife’s life in the days before she disappeared.
His wife had suffered postpartum depression with their first child and had attempted suicide previously, he said.
She was often angry and subject to radical mood shifts. “She did not handle stress well,” he said, adding that his response to her moods was to stay calm.
“By nature I am not aggressive,” he told police, adding that he followed the advice of counsellors to remain calm. “That is how I dealt with these things,” he said.
Later, Mr. Panghali told police he suspected that she did not go to a prenatal class, as she had told him, but went someplace else on the night she disappeared. “I don't know if the classes exist,” he said.
He also told police that his wife had a relationship with another man that troubled him. She would dress up to go out for dinner and drinks with this man. When he confronted her about the relationship, she dismissed his concerns, insisting it was just a friendship and he was overreacting, he said.
Mr. Panghali said the marriage was so stormy that he could not recall details of all the confrontations. His wife left him twice. She went with their daughter to her parents for a few days after a fight. On another occasion, she checked into a hotel for a night. Mr. Panghali also told police his wife did not like for him to drink alcohol, and about domestic violence in her parents’ family and strained relations with his parents.
Ms. Panghali was upset whenever he had a beer because she had family members who were alcoholic, he said. Suddenly he started to sob. “I do not know what she is going through,” he said. “I don’t know what she was thinking.”
But he quickly regained his composure. They had not fought in the days before she left, he said. “No fights, not even small.”
Mr. Panghali also talked about stresses related to his family. His brother, who had lived with them, had moved into his own place, Mr. Panghali told police. His parents, who lived outside the Lower Mainland, wanted to move closer to look after his brother.
Mr. Panghali said he wanted his parents to move in with his family so he could care for his father, who had suffered heart attacks. His wife was adamantly opposed, he said.
“My mother is not the most accommodating person,” he said, listing numerous household squabbles between his wife and his mother.
Before the videotaped interview, Mr. Panghali spoke to RCMP Constable James Bennett at the family home.
Constable Bennett testified that Mr. Panghali told him he had waited 26 hours to report his wife missing because she would “often” spend a night in a hotel or with a friend. Also, Mr. Panghali believed he had to wait 24 hours before reporting a missing person to police, Constable Bennett told the court.