TORONTO — An evil, demon-obsessed religious fanatic was the likely killer of her horrifically abused and starved teenaged stepdaughter whose body was found stuffed in a burning suitcase two decades ago, a first-degree murder trial heard Tuesday.
In closing arguments, defence lawyer Jennifer Penman urged jurors to acquit the teen’s father of deliberately killing Melonie Biddersingh, 17, saying the evidence instead points to his wife as the culprit.
Everton Biddersingh, 60, has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of his daughter. His wife, Elaine Biddersingh, faces her own trial this spring.
Penman portrayed Elaine Biddersingh as an evil domestic tyrant and indifferent mother with a Bible and demon obsession.
Court has heard that she hated her husband and stepdaughter, whom she believed was possessed by the devil and had brought a curse on the family.
“She has the most animus of anyone in the home toward Melonie,” Penman said. “Elaine took matters into her own hands and drowned Melonie.”
The trial has previously heard the teen was confined for hours in a tiny closet in their Toronto apartment, had her head placed in a toilet that was flushed, was chained to the furniture, was denied food, and was kicked, punched and thrown against walls by her father. Court also heard that her stepmother smashed her head against the wall in an effort to rid her of the devil.
After she died, the Crown alleges Biddersingh crammed his daughter into a suitcase, drove her to a remote area north of Toronto and set her on fire.
The Biddersinghs were arrested in March 2012 after a tip that finally allowed them to identify the victim’s remains and lay charges.
The defence called no witnesses, so Penman’s closing address was her opportunity to lay out an alternative to the Crown’s view — that Everton Biddersingh killed his daughter either by starving or drowning her.
Jurors, Penman urged, should set aside their emotions about the terrible things visited upon the teen and focus on the facts.
“The tragedy of this young woman’s death may easily overwhelm our imaginations,” Penman said. “This case fundamentally is not about child abuse. It is about murder.”
Penman said it may never be known exactly how the victim died — apparently on Sept. 1. 1994 — but pointed to forensic evidence that she drowned, something she urged jurors to accept as fact. Her body also showed signs of severe malnourishment and numerous healing fractures.
While her weakened state and injuries might have been a factor in her death, that is not the same thing as saying starvation was the cause, the lawyer told the jury.
The lawyer said it would be “dangerous” to convict her client on testimony from his wife and his son, Cleon Biddersingh, both of whom had reason to lie to protect themselves from criminal prosecution. Not even they alleged Everton Biddersingh drowned his daughter, Penman said.
Cleon Biddersingh, by his own admission, did nothing to protect his younger sister, Penman said. He lied about what had happened to her the night she died because he had been complicit in the abuse, the lawyer said.
All charges against him — related to the abuse of his sister and disposal of her body — were stayed in January 2015, but he could theoretically still be charged with murder, court heard.
Superior Court Justice Al O’Marra has yet to charge the jury.