TORONTO —; A woman accused of killing her stepdaughter was portrayed as victim of domestic abuse Friday as her defence lawyers blamed Elaine Biddersingh’s husband for the death of the severely malnourished and horrifically mistreated girl.
Biddersingh’s defence team said in closing arguments on Friday that their clients was unaware the 17-year-old Melonie’s life was at risk and did nothing to cause the girl’s death.
“To convict Elaine Biddersingh in this case of murder or even manslaughter would be an injustice for a woman who was living in a terrible situation,” said Jennifer Myers. “You should find Elaine Biddersingh not guilty.”
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Biddersingh’s lawyers did not call any of their own evidence during the trial.
The woman has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Melonie, whose charred body was found in a burning suitcase in an industrial parking lot north of Toronto in 1994.
Melonie’s identity remained a mystery for years until Biddersingh told an Ontario pastor in 2011 that the girl had “died like a dog” after being confined and denied food and medication.
Melonie’s father, Everton Biddersingh, was found guilty in January of first-degree murder in his daughter’s death after a separate trial, but jurors at Elaine Biddersingh’s trial were instructed to disregard that conviction as “completely irrelevant” to their case.
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Myers, however, focused heavily on Melonie’s father, calling him a “master manipulator” who “abused everyone in his path,” including his wife.
It was Everton Biddersingh who killed his daughter, Myers suggested, drowning her by flushing her head down a toilet – which the trial heard had been employed as a mode of punishment.
“Elaine Biddersingh had no idea that Everton drowned Melonie,” Myers said. “She had no idea that sometimes for punishment Everton had flushed Melonie’s head in the toilet.”
Exactly how Melonie died remains unclear but expert evidence at the trial has indicated she inhaled water shortly before her death and either drowned or nearly drowned, but died afterward from something else, such as starvation.
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“It is our position that Everton Biddersingh killed Melonie. He drowned her and he did it alone,” Myers said. “The Crown cannot prove here beyond a reasonable doubt that starvation, fractures or a combination thereof contributed in any way to her death.”
Melonie came to Canada from Jamaica in 1991 with two brothers to live with her father and her stepmother in Toronto.
Instead of being sent to school, they were kept at home and were at their father and stepmother’s beck and call.
The trial has heard that Melonie’s younger brother died in an accident in 1992, and Melonie and Cleon’s treatment worsened significantly over time, with Melonie getting the worst of the abuse.
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The trial has heard she was kicked, slapped and thrown against walls by her father, her stepmother once threw a mug at her head so hard it broke, she was deprived of food, made to sleep on the floor, confined to the apartment and eventually chained to the furniture.
The Crown has argued that Biddersingh was the mastermind behind the abuse while her husband was the enforcer.
But the defence suggested Biddersingh spent most of her time holed up in her bedroom with a Bible – out of her menacing husband’s way – and wasn’t aware of the extent of Melonie’s abuse.
“It doesn’t make sense that Elaine is orchestrating the violence while getting beaten herself,” Myers argued. “There’s no evidence Elaine knew what a bad state Melonie was in.”
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Melonie’s malnourishment was a “gradual, gradual change,” Myers suggested, and the girl may not have presented herself as someone in serious pain.
The trial has heard that in the time before her death, an extremely thin Melonie had trouble standing, would sometimes have to crawl around and eventually grew incontinent.
Medical evidence called in the trial indicated Melonie was severely malnourished and had 21 healing fractures when she died.