NEW WESTMINSTER — Gurjinder Dhaliwal was quietly led away to begin serving a life sentence Monday but not before hearing an earful from the family of the young Surrey woman he murdered.
Justice Terry Schultes sentenced Dhaliwal to life in prison with no eligibility to apply for parole for 21 years after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2011 shooting and stabbing death of his ex-girlfriend Maple Batalia, 19.
The court heard Dhaliwal was obsessed with the Simon Fraser University student and couldn’t handle it after she ended their four-year relationship.
Batalia was an aspiring actress and model who studied health sciences at Surrey’s SFU campus before she was murdered in Whalley a little more than five years ago.
Maple Batalia was shot in the back and stabbed while returning to her car, which had been parked on the third-level of the campus’s parking lot, after a study session. Paramedics had struggled to save her but she died in hospital.
Dhaliwal was expected to go on trial for first-degree murder last Thursday but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge.
He sat quietly in the prisoner’s box, at times fiddling with his hands, as nine family members and friends unleashed heart-rending victims impact statements in the packed-to-standing courtroom, in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster.
Sarbjit Batalia’s grief filled the air as she wept and, hyperventilating, told the court she would rather have died in her daughter’s place.
“It would have been much better than this,” she cried.
Twice she turned to Dhaliwal, asking why he killed her beloved daughter.
“Give me an answer, please,” she cried.
Maple Batalia’s father Harkirat (Harry) said his family had come to Canada “for a better life” and that his daughter wanted to be a doctor.
“She was the baby of the family but also the glue that held us together,” he said.
“No father should have to lose a daughter in such a gruesome way,” he told Dhaliwal. “You will have to answer to God and Maple one day. Your actions are unforgivable and may you never find peace.”
Roseleen Batalia told Dhaliwal he not only killed her sister but “destroyed so many lives” in the process.
“You have taken away her life but you cannot take away her legacy,” she said. She noted her sister tried to help the troubled man but eventually broke up with him in frustration. The court heard that after the breakup he continued to contact her thousands of times, by texting and other means.
“I hope every day for the rest of your life you are reminded of what you have done,” she said.
Other family members and friends — Baldish Thiara, Benisha Aujla, Bnita Nagra, Karen Kang, Michelle Cyr and Natalie Sheck — each shared accounts of their loss.
“After Maple’s death my world came crashing down,” Thiara told the court.
Dhaliwal’s lawyer Simon Simon Buck and Crown prosecutors Wendy Stephen and Brad Kielmann presented Schultes with a joint submission of 21 years with no eligibility to apply for parole, starting from the date of Dhaliwal’s arrest in 2012.
Before he was sentenced, Dhaliwal addressed the court but his comments were inaudible as he was separated from the gallery by security glass. Buck later told the Now that Dhaliwal apologized to the Batalias for the terrible thing he did and that he will carry it with him for the rest of his life. Dhaliwal also apologized to his own family, Buck said.
Stephen told the court there are eight aggravating factors and three mitigating factors in Dhaliwal’s case. As for aggravating factors, she said, the killing was done in the context of the breakup of an intimate relationship and after the breakup, he obsessively contacted her thousands of times despite being on a court order to stay away from her.
He also used a gun and a bowie knife. Slashing her head after the shooting, she said, was “simply gratuitous violence. There was an element of planning to the crime, she said, the killing was an ambush, and he showed reckless disregard by firing shots in a public place where people were coming and going.
“Bullets ricochet,” Stephen noted. “Anyone could have been hit by them.”
Stephen said Dhaliwal also showed “callous disregard” for people in his own circle.
“As a result of course Mr. Bedi is facing serious charges,” she noted.
Gursimar Bedi is charged with manslaughter using a firearm and accessory after the fact in this case and his trial continues this week before Justice Schultes.
The mitigating factors, Stephen said, are Dhaliwal’s youth (he was 19 when he killed Batalia), he had no prior criminal record and pleaded guilty to murder, albeit “very late in the day.”
Buck told the court Dhaliwal was raised in Surrey, has lots of relatives in the area, and that his family owns a trucking business for which he worked for seven months as a dispatcher after dropping out of high school.
“It’s true Mr. Dhaliwal was unable to come to terms with the breakup,” Buck said. He said his client’s conduct was driver by jealousy that clouded his judgement and made him act irrationally.
“He will pay for the crime for a very long time,” Buck said. “Not just in prison but in his thoughts as well.
“His release, if he is ever released, is decided by the parole board.”
Said Schultes of the Batalia family, “There is no remedy for their loss and their pain.”
Outside court, Roseleen Batalia told reporters she hopes her sister “is finally content she got justice.”