TORONTO — The wife of a man accused of killing his teenage daughter two decades ago told his trial Monday that he was an abusive spouse who controlled everyone in his family.
Elaine Biddersingh — who is also charged in the case and faces a separate murder trial next year — testified that her husband, Everton Biddersingh, hit his daughter and rationed her food when he was angry with her.
“He beat her with a belt and say she don’t have no manners, she must have respect,” said 54-year-old Elaine Biddersingh. “What he used to do to me he started to do to her. Sometimes when she moves around you could see she was in pain.”
Everton Biddersingh has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of his 17-year-old daughter Melonie, whose frail, charred body was discovered in a burning suitcase in an industrial area north of Toronto 21 years ago.
He and his wife were only arrested in March 2012 after a tip to police eventually led to the identification of Melonie’s remains, which had remained a mystery for years.
Speaking slowly, often with long pauses before answering questions from a Crown prosecutor, Elaine Biddersingh, who has been out on bail since her arrest, told the jury about her life with her husband.
In the early years of her marriage, she said her husband frequently hit her and called her names like “stupid,” “ugly” and “dumb.”
“It was fearful,” she said, when asked to describe their relationship. “He didn’t waste any time starting to beat me, punching my face, kick me, spit in my face.”
Her husband didn’t want her to have any friends and didn’t allow her to get a driving license, she testified.
In 1991, Melonie and two brothers came from Jamaica, where they were born, to Canada to live with their father and their stepmother, court has heard.
Biddersingh said she felt “very happy” about the children’s arrival at the time and planned to care for them like her own.
“They are good children,” she said, noting that all three were healthy and happy when they arrived.
Jurors have heard that the children were not sent to school — despite attending school in Jamaica — and were allegedly mistreated. Melonie’s younger brother, Dwayne, died accidentally in June 1992.
Biddersingh said she tired of her husband’s behaviour towards her a few months after the children arrived and left the family home for six weeks, staying at her mother’s apartment and keeping Melonie and her own two young sons with her.
It was when she returned to her husband, with all the children in tow, that his treatment of Melonie took a sharp turn for the worse, she said.
He resented Melonie’s behaviour while she had been away, Biddersingh said, and began to physically abuse her.
“He put it like she’s showing off…he would beat her,” she said. “Food was rationed. Because she don’t have any manners, she disrespected him.”
Her husband also didn’t allow Melonie to have any friends “because he doesn’t like to see anyone happy,” she said.
Melonie’s older brother, Cleon, also had his food rationed, Biddersingh said, noting that when her husband was out of the house, she would give the two children some extra food at times.
“Because that’s when we have some freedom,” she said. “Everton tell people when to eat and not to eat. He monitor everybody food.”
Cleon has testified, however, that it was his stepmother who maintained control over the food, with his father doling out the physical punishments most of the time.
Biddersingh said she also noticed Melonie’s appearance started to change over time.
“She lost some weight. In her face she looked sad. She looked thinner,” she said. “She was moving slower, when she came she was a bubbly person, so it was a difference.”
When asked if Melonie had injuries to her body, Biddersingh said she never had a chance to closely inspect her stepdaughter.
“I could just see the way she moved,” she said. “I figure she was sad or solemn.”
Melonie was tasked with helping care for Biddersingh’s youngest child, who was a baby at the time, and also had to wash clothes in the apartment bathtub when ordered to do so by her father, “no matter what time of the night,” she said.
The jury has heard that Melonie died on Sept. 1, 1994 but her father told most of her family she had run away from home.