TORONTO — A father accused of starving or drowning his teenaged daughter two decades ago was convicted of first-degree murder on Thursday after weeks of graphic and disturbing testimony about the horrific abuse she suffered before she died.
Jurors took about four hours to find an impassive Everton Biddersingh guilty in the death of 17-year-old Melonie Biddersingh, which carries a mandatory life sentence without parole for 25 years.
"I certainly hope Melonie can rest more peaceful tonight," said Toronto Det.-Sgt. Steve Ryan shortly after the decision.
Superior Court Justice Al O'Marra had sent the jurors to deliberate after concluding a charge he had started a day earlier by outlining prosecution and defence positions.
The Crown maintained Biddersingh, 60, drowned or starved his daughter after a period of prolonged abuse, or that she died while her father unlawfully confined her in the small Toronto apartment they shared with her stepmother, Elaine Biddersingh.
"They treated Melonie like a slave," O'Marra told jurors in summing up the prosecution's case. "She was imprisoned emotionally and physically."
The teen, whose charred remains were found stuffed in a suitcase in an isolated industrial area, had come to Canada from Jamaica for a better life. Instead, by the time of her death, she weighed a skeletal 50 pounds and had 21 broken bones in various stages of healing. A vegetable was found in her vagina.
At no time was she allowed to leave the apartment, spending countless hours chained to furniture, stuffed in a tiny closet, or locked out on a balcony. Her father, according to one witness, would kick her and force the helpless victim's head into a toilet and then flush.
O'Marra had told the seven women and five men on the panel they could find Biddersingh guilty of lesser offences such as second-degree murder, attempted murder or manslaughter if they couldn't agree on a first-degree murder conviction.
Several hours into their deliberations, court resumed when jurors sought clarification on the law related to forcible or unlawful confinement and a short while later, they returned their verdict.
According to the Crown, O'Marra told them earlier, Biddersingh knew the girl could die but never sought medical attention because her body was "riddled with signs of abuse."
After she died, Biddersingh maintained his daughter had run away. He never filed a missing person's report.
It was only in 2011 that his wife told a pastor what had happened, allowing police to identify the teen's remains and lay charges in March 2012.
For its part, the defence argued that experts had concluded the teen drowned but no evidence shows her father actually did it.
Instead, the defence said Elaine Biddersingh, 54, drowned her stepdaughter because she hated her and believed she was possessed by the devil.
Given the circumstantial nature of the case, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Biddersingh's wife, an "angry, dishonest religious fanatic," O'Marra said in citing the defence position.
While Biddersingh may have failed to care for and protect his daughter, that did not automatically lead to the conclusion he drowned her, O'Marra further recounted.
Another key witness against the accused, his son Cleon Biddersingh, also lied to hide his own involvement in his sister's abuse, the defence maintained.
Yet neither he nor his stepmother, who faces her own first-degree murder trial in April, said Biddersingh drowned his daughter.
Defence lawyer Jennifer Penman said Everton Biddersingh was disappointed with the verdict and would likely appeal.
Formal sentencing will take place Feb. 8 to allow family members to give impact statements.
By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press