By Jennifer Saltman, The Province
NEW WESTMINSTER — The ex-boyfriend of Surrey university student Maple Batalia pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with her shooting death more than four years ago.
On Thursday, there were gasps in the New Westminster courtroom as Gurjinder “Gary” Dhaliwal, 24, entered the plea on Thursday, which was supposed to be the first day of his trial on a charge of first-degree murder.
According to an agreed statement of facts read in court by Crown prosecutor Wendy Stephen, Dhaliwal and Batalia met in high school and had an on-again, off-again relationship that lasted about four years.
When Batalia discovered that Dhaliwal had been unfaithful to her, she broke up with him in August 2011.
“Mr. Dhaliwal did not want to break up and attempted to reconcile with her,” Stephen told the court.
Between Aug. 15 and Sept. 24, Dhaliwal used one cellphone to send 1,627 text messages and make 2,154 calls to Batalia, and a second phone to send 92 texts and make 174 calls between Sept. 14 and 23.
During the same 40-day period, Batalia sent a few texts, phoned Dhaliwal on occasion and met with him a few times.
Stephen then described two incidents following the breakup that ended in violence.
Early on Sept. 16, as Batalia and some friends left a Surrey nightclub, Dhaliwal showed up and confronted her.
When she refused to go with him, he got into an altercation with two young men in her group, pushing one and spitting in the face of another. Batalia was upset and in tears.
In the hours before and after the incident, Dhaliwal contacted Batalia by phone and text 314 times.
On Sept. 23, Batalia texted Dhaliwal, said the relationship was over and told him not to contact her anymore. Over the next 16 hours, he called and texted her 243 times.
The last phone contact between the two took place on Sept. 24, the same day there was an incident involving Dhaliwal, Batalia and a male friend of Batalia’s at a Surrey Tim Hortons.
Batalia met a male friend from high school early that morning and a short time later, Dhaliwal showed up. He asked who the guy was and what they were doing there. Batalia tried to calm Dhaliwal down but he hit Batalia’s friend in the face.
Batalia went with Dhaliwal for a short drive, during which he tried to convince her to reconcile. She refused, and when he brought her back to her car he tried to take her cellphone. There was a struggle and Batalia fell, scraping her elbows. After Dhaliwal left, Batalia told her friend that she was frightened.
Dhaliwal later called Batalia’s friend and told him to stay away from her.
Following the incident, Dhaliwal was arrested and released on a promise to appear with an undertaking not to contact Batalia or her friend.
Shortly after 10 a.m. on Sept. 25, Dhaliwal and his friend Gursimar Bedi went to a car rental agency, where Bedi allegedly rented a white Dodge Charger. Dhaliwal then went to Guildford mall and bought a knife. He had previously bought a handgun.
Stephen said Dhaliwal bought the weapons so that he could confront Batalia’s male friend if he saw them together.
On the evening of Sept. 26, Dhaliwal and Bedi went to Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus — where Batalia was a health sciences student — in the rented car.
Dhaliwal wanted to see if Batalia and her male friend were together and allegedly asked Bedi to go in and see if they were there. Bedi reported by cellphone that Batalia was there, but her friend was not. Dhaliwal left without incident.
The next evening, Dhaliwal went to the school again in the rental car and asked Bedi to be the lookout once more. Bedi reported that Batalia and her male friend were there. Dhaliwal waited outside to confront Batalia’s friend.
After the friends were finished studying they went to the parking lot, where they hugged and parted ways. Dhaliwal saw the hug and became “enraged.”
Dhaliwal drove the car forward and fired five shots, three of which hit Batalia in the torso and arm. Batalia collapsed on the ground. Dhaliwal got out of the car and slashed the top and back of Batalia’s head with a knife.
He then got into the rental car and drove away, leaving the knife behind and taking the gun. The gun was never recovered.
Batalia was rushed to Royal Columbian Hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries.
In court, Batalia’s family was in tears as Stephen described the circumstances of her death.
The day after the shooting, police seized the rental car. A forensic examination found a shell casing under the hood of the car, Batalia’s blood on the driver’s side visor mirror and headlight control, and gunshot residue on the steering wheel. The shell casing matched those found at the scene of the shooting.
Dhaliwal was arrested on Nov. 30, 2012, following an extensive police investigation, and charged the next day. He provided a statement to police on Dec. 3, during which he admitted some of his actions. He has been in custody since his arrest.
Stephen said the mandatory sentence for a murder conviction is life in prison, though the period of parole ineligibility can vary from 10 to 25 years. She told the court that Crown and defence are jointly seeking a parole ineligibility period of 21 years.
The sentencing hearing will continue on Monday with victim-impact statements from Batalia’s family.
Batalia’s parents declined to speak to media outside court Thursday.
Dhaliwal’s friend Bedi, 26, is charged with manslaughter with a firearm and being an accessory to murder after the fact. He is scheduled to go to trial on Monday.
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