NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — A man who pleaded guilty to gunning down his ex-girlfriend on a British Columbia university campus will serve at least 21 years of a life sentence before he is eligible for parole.
Gurjinder Dhaliwal, 24, rose moments before hearing his sentence in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday and apologized to the family and friends of Maple Batalia, many of whom had just finished giving emotional victim-impact statements about how they've been affected by the 19-year-old woman's death.
"I'm sorry," he said, his voice barely audible in the courtroom. "I know I did a terrible thing."
Dhaliwal made a surprise guilty plea to second-degree murder last week, admitting to killing Batalia in the parking lot of Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus after he saw her studying with a male classmate in September 2011. He was originally charged with first-degree murder.
"Give me an answer, please. Why did you kill my daughter?"
An agreed statement of facts describes how Dhaliwal became enraged and shot Batalia three times in the back before slashing her head with a knife and fleeing in a rental vehicle. Both Crown and defence jointly recommended the life sentence with 21 years of parole ineligibility.
Justice Terence Schultes said a combination of Dhaliwal's poor judgment, immaturity, jealousy and ready access to weapons that led to Batalia's death.
Defence lawyer Simon Buck said outside court that his client accepted what Schultes had described as an unusually severe punishment because he wanted to take responsibility for his actions.
"He's not out to get the best deal possible," Buck said. "He took a good look at what he'd done and he, I think, agreed it was the right thing to do."
The sound of sobbing filled the packed New Westminster courtroom earlier Monday while friends and family described living with the pain of Batalia's loss every day.
Sarbjit Batalia told court through an interpreter that she wishes she had died in her daughter's place. At one point, she broke down and turned to Dhaliwal, sitting motionless in the prisoner's docket, and asked through tears: "Give me an answer, please. Why did you kill my daughter?"
"I just hope she's looking down and is content that she finally got that justice."
One of Batalia's close friends said her death "was like stomping on a flower before it blooms."
Her father spoke of his life feeling useless and without purpose with his "angel" gone.
"March 4th would have been her 24th birthday. I still write her a card though I will never be able to express to her how much I love her and how much joy she brought our lives,'' Harikat Batalia said.
"No father should have to lose a daughter in such a gruesome way."
Outside court, Roseleen Batalia choked back sobs as she said her sister "can finally rest in peace knowing that she got some justice."
"We just want this to be an example in the community that no matter what you do it does catch up to you. Justice must be served. I just hope she's looking down and is content that she finally got that justice.''
Co-accused Gursimar Bedi was expected in court later Monday to face charges of manslaughter and accessory to murder after the fact.
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