After just four hours of deliberation a jury acquitted Ivan Mendez-Romero of the 2004 death of his longtime lover Janko Naglic.
Naglic, the original owner of the Barn, was found dead in his Davisville-area home on Oct 27, 2004. He died of suffocation as the result of duct tape covering his mouth and nose.
The trial, which lasted a month, was largely comprised of second-hand testimony from friends of Naglic’s who told the court that Naglic told them he had been threatened by Mendez-Romero and that he feared for his life. There had been no direct evidence offered by the Crown to link Mendez-Romero to the crime.
The jury, which had been given final direction by Justice Gladys Pardu for most of Mar 4 reached a decision after six hours — four hours of deliberation plus a two-hour dinner break. Defence lawyer Laurence Cohen called it one of the shortest deliberations he’d seen.
“It was a strange trial where hearsay evidence was produced as real evidence,” Cohen told the jury in his summation on Mar 3 in the murder trial of Ivan Mendez-Romero.
Conversely Crown attorney Ann Morgan argued in summation that the lack of direct or forensic evidence to link Mendez-Romero to the crime should not prevent the jury from finding the accused guilty.
“This is a circumstantial case with a great deal of evidence, including overwhelming evidence of motive,” Morgan said.
“You may have thought that circumstantial cases are weak cases. I want to tell you that the opposite is true. Circumstantial evidence is not any less valuable as direct evidence such as eyewitness evidence.”
Naglic met Mendez-Romero in 1994 while on holiday in Mendez-Romero’s native Cuba. Witnesses testified that Naglic arranged a marriage of convenience to bring Mendez-Romero to Canada where he went to work at Naglic’s Church St bar.
Various friends of the couple testified that Mendez-Romero had sexual affairs with women throughout their relationship but that Naglic was largely unconcerned, until Mendez-Romero’s marriage to Victoria Bunda in 2004.
At that point, friends testified, the relationship between Naglic and Mendez-Romero became strained, culminating in a confrontation at a Minden hotel in September 2004. In the weeks between the incident and Naglic’s death he told various friends that he was going to kick his lover out of his Balliol St house and take him off the payroll at the Barn. Witnesses said Naglic told them Mendez-Romero was demanding half of Naglic’s assets.
Estate lawyer Harvey Hamburg testified that Naglic had an appointment with him on Oct 28, 2004, just days after his death.
“Is this an amazing coincidence or an attempt by someone who was fearful of loss, whether real or apparent?” posed Morgan in her summation. “And I strongly suggest that Mendez-Romero, now married and clearly in an intimate relationship with his wife, knew Janko wasn’t about to hand over the keys to the kingdom.”
But while the Crown offered evidence of motive and opportunity to have caused Naglic’s death there was enough doubt on the part of the jurors to acquit.
As Pardu told the jury in her direction on Mar 4, “it is not enough to be probably guilty or likely guilty.”