TORONTO —; A teenage girl who came to Canada dreaming of a better life was starved and abused by her own family before her charred body was found in a burning suitcase 21 years ago, a Toronto jury was told Wednesday as the trial of her father got underway.
Everton Biddersingh has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 17-year-old daughter Melonie. He has pleaded not guilty.
Crown prosecutor Anna Tenhouse detailed Melonie’s troubled life after she came to Canada from Jamaica in 1991 to live with her father and stepmother.
READ MORE: Father, stepmom charged in death of teen found in suitcase in 1994
“Instead of going to school, she was treated like a slave. She was beaten. She was starved. She was drowned or nearly drowned, inhaling water shortly before her death. She was stuffed into a suitcase and driven to an isolated area where she was set on fire,” Tenhouse said in her opening statement.
“Three years after she had come to Canada, Melonie was killed.”
The case has taken two decades to get to trial because police weren’t able to identify Melonie’s remains for years until they received a tip that eventually led to the arrest of Everton Biddersingh and Melonie’s stepmother, Elaine Biddersingh, in March 2012.
Elaine Biddersingh’s trial on first-degree murder is set to begin in April 2016. A confession she made to a pastor years after Melonie’s death led to the break in the case.
Court heard that when Melonie first came to Canada at the age of 13 with two brothers, her father and stepmother promised her a life “full of hope.”
“Melonie was pretty and a happy girl. However that did not last long. After living in the Biddersingh home, Melonie’s appearance changed,” Tenhouse said. “Everton’s attitude towards Melonie changed.”
READ MORE: Cold case break: Father, stepmom charged in death of teen found in suitcase in 1994
Melonie was made responsible for one of Everton Biddersingh’s other children, who was a baby, was responsible for keeping the family’s small apartment clean and was often not allowed to leave the home, court heard.
She was subjected to all kinds of abuse that included being kept in a closet, being placed in a barrel, having her head placed in a toilet which was flushed as punishment, being chained to the furniture at times, being kicked and punched and being deprived of food, Tenhouse said.
The girl was also called “the devil” and told she brought evil to the family, Tenhouse said.
“Melonie became thinner and weaker as a result of the abuse and food deprivation,” Tenhouse said, adding that the teen, who was not given medical attention, told her older brother Cleon she wished she was dead.
Melonie died on Sept. 1, 1994, but Tenhouse told the jury they would be hearing two different versions of just how the teen died.
In Elaine Biddersingh’s version of events, Everton Biddersingh said his daughter was dead and showed his wife the teen’s lifeless body in a hall closet, Tenhouse said.
“Elaine assumed Melonie died of malnourishment because Everton was restricting her food and she looked thin,” Tenhouse said.
“Elaine suggested that they get a suitcase and put Melonie’s body in the suitcase.”
Elaine Biddersingh said her husband and Cleon set the suitcase on fire after she drove with them to an isolated area, court heard.
Cleon, however, has said he was woken by his father and told Melonie ran away from home, Tenhouse said.
“Cleon did not understand because Melonie was weak and sick,” Tenhouse said. “Melonie had tried to run away on one prior occasion. She only made it to the stairwell next to their apartment.”
Jurors heard that expert evidence expected in the case will indicate Melonie had 21 “healing fractures” involving her ribs, spine, pelvis, right knee and left ankle which were caused three weeks to six months before her death.
A post mortem also found that Melonie was starved and had inhaled water shortly before her death, Tenhouse said.
“Given Melonie’s fractures and her poor health, she was weak and in a great amount of pain at the time of her death,” Tenhouse said.
“After hearing all the evidence, we will be asking you to find Mr. Biddersingh guilty of first-degree murder.”