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Ont. court upholds murder conviction in death of girl found in burning suitcase

Ontario's highest court has upheld a Toronto man's murder conviction in the death of his teenage daughter, whose emaciated remains were found in a burning suitcase more than two decades ago.

Ontario's highest court has upheld a Toronto man's murder conviction in the death of his teenage daughter, whose emaciated remains were found in a burning suitcase more than two decades ago. 

Everton Biddersingh was found guilty in 2016 of first-degree murder the death of his 17-year-old daughter Melonie.

He was later sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, which is the automatic sentence for first-degree murder.

Biddersingh challenged the conviction on several grounds, all related to evidence regarding what caused Melonie's death.

He argued, among other things, that the judge who presided over his trial erred in allowing jurors to consider a suggestion that he starved his daughter to death.

But in a unanimous ruling released last week, the Court of Appeal for Ontario dismissed Biddersingh's appeal, saying the judge was not mistaken in leaving that option with the jury.

"In this case, there was both lay and medical evidence which could have supported an inference that Melonie’s death was caused by her extreme state of starvation, whether following a near-drowning event or independent of any drowning," the appeal court said.

The three-judge panel also rejected Biddersingh's suggestion that the judge erred in allowing one of the experts who examined Melonie's body to provide an alternate cause of death should jurors disregard his evidence on her probable drowning.

It further dismissed his argument that the judge should not have allowed jurors to consider the expert's explanation on how microscopic plants that were found in Melonie's sinus and bones — which indicated a potential drowning — could have been transferred inside the family's apartment.

Prosecutors alleged Biddersingh drowned or starved Melonie, who weighed 50 pounds and had 21 broken bones at various stages of healing when she died in 1994. A vegetable was also found in her vagina.

They alleged the teen could also have died while her father unlawfully confined her in the small Toronto apartment they shared with her stepmother, Elaine Biddersingh.

The Crown alleged Biddersingh then crammed his daughter's body into a suitcase, took it to a remote area north of Toronto and set it on fire.

Court heard he then told friends and relatives, including Melonie's mother in Jamaica, that the teen had run away from home. He never reported her missing.

Police weren't able to identify Melonie's remains until they received a tip that eventually led to Biddersingh's arrest in 2012.

The trial heard Melonie, who came to Canada from Jamaica with her brothers in 1991 to live with their father, was never allowed to leave the apartment.

Jurors heard the girl was treated like a slave, chained to furniture for hours and stuffed in a small closet, or locked out on the balcony.

One witness said Biddersingh would kick Melonie and hold her head in the toilet while flushing.

Defence lawyers argued at trial there was no evidence Biddersingh had killed Melonie, and pointed the finger at his wife instead.

Elaine Biddersingh told her pastor about Melonie's death in 2011, which allowed police to identify her remains and lay charges in the case.

She was also charged with first-degree murder, but after being tried separately from her husband, was found guilty of second-degree murder. She was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 16 years.

Elaine Biddersingh also challenged her conviction. That case is ongoing.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 6, 2020.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press