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‘Vida loca’ led to death

The Crown's case for murder

On Mar 3, four weeks after the trial of Ivan Mendez-Romero for the murder of Janko Naglic began, the defence told the court it would not be calling any witnesses, moving the case directly to Crown and defence summations.

Naglic, the original owner of the Barn nightclub, was found dead in his Davisville-area home on Oct 27, 2004. Mendez-Romero, Naglic’s longtime lover, was charged with first-degree murder in August 2005 and has been in police custody since.

During her summation senior Crown attorney Ann Morgan told the jury that Mendez-Romero killed Naglic over money. She called the life the couple led “the vida loca,” pointing to the $750,000 house on Balliol St, the condos in Florida, the yacht, Mercedes and a $56,000 truck.

“We have to be careful here,” said Morgan. “Just because someone likes the good life and may be prepared to do anything for it — even use someone — doesn’t make a murderer.”

Morgan pointed to testimony of Mendez-Romero’s affairs with women throughout the course of his relationship with Naglic.

“We’ve heard evidence that Mr Mendez-Romero seemed to like women a lot and this caused Mr Naglic pain. We’ve heard evidence that Mr Naglic maybe even forgave him and that there might have been good times. And again be very careful because just because someone is not faithful or does not treat their partner well does not make them a murderer either.

“Any one of these facts in isolation doesn’t make a case. But her honour [Justice Gladys Pardu] will tell you that in a circumstantial case you have to look at all the evidence as a whole and that is the constellations of facts that lead you to the conclusion.”

Morgan conceded that there was no direct evidence to implicate Mendez-Romero. “This is a circumstantial case with a great deal of evidence, including overwhelming evidence of motive.”

Morgan argued that this fact doesn’t make the case less compelling. “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.”

Morgan reviewed the evidence as presented over the past three weeks, beginning with the time of Naglic’s death. After reminding the jury that pathologist Toby Rose “testified that death from 6:30pm to 9:30pm was consistent with the condition she found Mr Naglic in,” Morgan concluded that Naglic was killed shortly after returning home from friend Bob Grimson’s house.

“We know that Mr Naglic was found at 12:07pm on Oct 27, 2004,” said Morgan. “He was last seen alive [by Grimson] on 6pm the night before. He was not heard or seen by anyone who knew him after that.

Morgan quoted from testimony of Naglic’s friends as to the disruption of his regular routine on the evening in question, including removing his boots in favour of more comfortable footwear upon his arrival home.

“Mr Naglic was found in the stairwell just inside the front entrance,” said Morgan. “He still had his boots on. His jacket is found crumpled beside his body. His cell phone and glasses scattered beside him. We know that the boots were kept neatly in the front closet.”

She also reminded the jury that Naglic’s Chihuahua, Pichou, was found barricaded in the kitchen by police by following morning. 

“Naglic’s practice was to come home and let Pichou out right away,” Morgan said. “Pichou had the run of the house. On this night Mr Naglic never had a chance [to let the dog out of the kitchen].”

Morgan told the court that Naglic had no enemies, adding that although he had faced police harassment in connection to the Barn and made public allegations regarding an alleged police shakedown, that those difficulties had been resolved by the time of his death.

“He had trouble with the police but this had been rectified by the time he died. Mr Czernik [Andrew Czernik, Naglic’s lawyer] testified he had been successful in the last round of charges. Mr Cohen [Lawrence Cohen, Mendez-Romero’s lawyer] himself stated on the record that he was at no time suggesting the police killed him.”

Morgan repeated police testimony indicating there had been no signs of forced entry in the house where Naglic was killed, nor had anything been taken.

“Nothing was disturbed,” said Morgan. “Even more telling, this house had many valuables, easily visible and obtainable. Cash was available throughout the house and even on Mr Naglic’s person.”

Morgan concluded that Naglic’s death wasn’t the result of a robbery or home invasion “but a violent death by someone enraged by their situation.” She went on to deride the idea that a “bogeyman came and killed Naglic and left without a trace.”

Morgan arged that Mendez-Romero made a mistake by leaving Naglic’s truck parked on the street on the morning of Oct 27, 2004 instead of in the driveway where it was normally parked.

“I suggest this is very compelling evidence,” said Morgan. “Mr Mendez-Romero knew that Janko did not need it.”

Morgan called into question Mendez-Romeo’s reaction to seeing Naglic’s body, which was to leave the scene and run to neighbour Phyllis Lamb’s house.

“Is this the behavior of someone who found his dead lover face down wrapped in duct tape? There were at least five phones in the vicinity. The firefighters turned Mr Naglic over to see if there were signs of life, in the hope of performing CPR. Did Mr Mendez-Romero try to do any of that? Call 911 from the house? If there is any way to save a person with duct tape wrapped around your mouth and nose it sure isn’t by leaving and going down the street.”

Morgan argued that it is certain that the two men crossed paths on the night of Naglic’s death.

“Janko Naglic was driving that truck [a Ford with vanity plate “JANKO”] on Tuesday [Oct 26, 2004]. [Witness] Wayne Teller says so. And Ivan Mendez-Romero showed up in the truck on Wednesday [at approximately 2:30am when stopped by police for speeding]. So no doubt about it, their paths crossed.”

In the last half hour of her summation Morgan’s discussed the Crown’s theory of Mendez-Romero’s motivation to see Naglic dead.

“What could have motivated Mr Mendez-Romero to do such a thing?” posed Morgan. “Again Mr Cohen will tell you that why would you kill someone for money when surely you were entitled to have some by virtue of being in a common-law relationship? Her honour advised that a common-law spouse could do so. And there is nothing wrong with that. We know sometime after Mr Naglic died Mr Mendez-Romero did so. We know he sued for a million dollars. Ask yourself, wouldn’t it had been simpler to go to court and ask for the money and start your life with your new wife?”

Morgan referred back to Mendez-Romero’s impoverished origins in Cuba as a way to understand his “state of mind at the time Janko Naglic died” before fast forwarding to his marriage to Victoria Bunda in March 2004.

“Evidence tells us that Mr Naglic thinks this a marriage of convenience,” said Morgan. “Some witnesses even say that Janko might have been part of the initial planning of it as he was friends with her parents, having frequented [Bunda’s family’s restaurant] the Bread and Butter for years. But I would ask that you find that Mr Naglic wasn’t prepared for a love match.”

Morgan then outlined Naglic’s suspicions culminating in him following his lover and his lover’s wife to Minden in September 2004 and the confrontation that apparently ensued.

“All of the witnesses who testified about Minden said similar things,” said Morgan. “That Janko Naglic confronted Ivan in a motel with his wife.”

Morgan called this “the beginning of the end,” recapping the second-hand testimony that Naglic told Bunda that Mendez-Romero was his lover and that Mendez-Romero’s subsequently threatened Naglic’s life.

“You can be comfortable in finding that the Minden incident happened,” said Morgan, citing the credit card bill for gas bought by Mendez-Romero in Minden and testimony by Naglic’s doctor that Naglic recounted the incident to him the following day and was told to go to the police.

“The high life is starting to become precarious for Mendez-Romero…. He knew the relationship was over with Mr Naglic but he didn’t want to go without 50 percent,” said Morgan.

“The next month life is deteriorating for the couple. Evidence that Mendez-Romero as not at home, not intimate or kissing Janko…. Mr Naglic starts to seek counsel. He goes to [estate lawyer] Douglas Barker. He tells Mr Barker that Mendez-Romero has threatened to kill him. Mr Barker strongly advises he goes to the police.”

Morgan recounted testimony of Czernik, who testified that Naglic approached him to be the executor of his will and asked him to “be tough on Ivan” in the event of his death.

“I ask you to find this telling,” said Morgan. “Days before he died Mr Naglic foreshadows his own situation, knowing if something happens to him Mr Czernik will be tough on Ivan.”

Morgan pointed out that Naglic had an appointment booked for Oct 28, 2004 with estate lawyer Harvey Hamburg “but that he never made it because he died.”

“Is this an amazing coincidence or an attempt by someone who was fearful of loss, whether real or apparent?” posed Morgan. “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.”

Morgan recapped various threats allegedly made on Naglic’s life by Mendez-Romero, as relayed to by Naglic to various friends as well as an incident relayed by Naglic to his late friend Kathy Drury of how Naglic was “threatened and slamed into the wall by an angry Ivan Mendez-Romero” upon Mendez-Romero’s arrival home at 4am on Oct 26, 2004.

“Ladies and gentleman you can’t ignore reality,” said Morgan. “These threats were told to his friends, confidantes and advisors close to him within hours of his death and he ended up dead.”

Morgan recounted Naglic’s last conversation with Grimson where he told his friend “that his life was over” and that he was afraid to go home for fear of being attacked.

“Mr Grimson says he left at 6pm and he never saw him again. In fact no one ever saw him again. Except Mr Mendez-Romero.”

Morgan then recounted that Mendez-Romero was, according to a phone conversation with witness Karen Hylton, at the house waiting for Naglic at 6:15pm and that he was still there at 6:34pm but “on his way” to meet Hylton. According to Hylton’s testimony Mendez-Romero did not meet her that night, although the Crown and defence have agreed that Mendez-Romero’s alibis from 9:21pm on are authentic.

Morgan argued that the time between Naglic’s arrival home and Mendez-Romero’s 9:21pm alibi were more than enough time for the crime to have been committed.     

Morgan then summarized that Mendez-Romero was the only suspect, that he had the opportunity to kill Naglic and that he had a motive to do so.

Lastly Morgan argued that it was tellingly uncharacteristic that Mendez-Romero did not offer assistance to Naglic upon finding him face down on the living room floor.

“Mr Mendez-Romero, an experienced diver, saved the life of Naglic in an obviously frightening and life-threatening situation,” Morgan told the court, alluding to testimony by a friend of the couple. “Is this the same Mendez-Romero who panicked and ran? Or is it the Mendez-Romero who, as a result of his training, knew how long it takes to die without air and he didn’t help him because he already knew he was dead?

“Put all this together with Mr Naglic’s efforts to protect his assets and I suggest you have a recipe for murder,” concluded Morgan. “I suggest that when you review all the evidence carefully and apply the appropriate legal tests her honour will give you that you will have no doubt the Mr Mendez-Romero is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of first-degree murder.”