A man accused in the murder of a Japanese student pleaded guilty Monday to interfering with the victim’s dead body.
The surprise move came just before the Crown and defence delivered final submissions to the jury in the case of William Schneider, 51, who has pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder of Natsumi Kogawa, 30.
During his final submissions, defence lawyer Joe Doyle told the jury that his client, a homeless, drug-addicted man who had dated Kogawa several times, had placed her body in a suitcase after she died and had left the suitcase at a property in Vancouver’s West End.
“There’s no question that it’s a terrible thing to have done,” Doyle said, adding that one inference from the evidence is that Kogawa had died for unexplained reasons and that his client had panicked.
“He didn’t know why. He didn’t know what was going on, and he made a lot of very poor decisions.”
Doyle argued, however, that Schneider had nothing to do with the victim’s death, noting that pathologist Dr. Carol Lee was unable to determine a cause of death.
“She doesn’t know why Ms. Kogawa died and, with respect, that’s the end of it. It can’t be said that this is a homicide.”
Kogawa, who had come to Canada in May 2016 on a student visa, died with traces of anti-anxiety medication in her system.
Earlier, Crown counsel Geordie Proulx began his submissions by telling the jury that a homicide had in fact taken place on Sept. 8, 2016 as set out in the indictment.
He argued that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Schneider had committed an unlawful act in placing a hand over Kogawa’s mouth and nose and smothering her.
“When someone cuts off someone’s ability to breathe, it will result in death,” said Proulx. “Even a small child knows that. I say that the accused killed Natsumi Kogawa by cutting off her ability to breathe.”
The proof of the smothering of Kogawa included a gesture that Schneider made during an interview he had with police while in prison, said Proulx. The interview was audiotaped but not videotaped.
To prove that the accused intended to kill Kogawa, the prosecutor said he relied on the accused’s words to his wife, his brother, his father and the police.
He noted that there was evidence that during a phone call following the death, Schneider had told his wife in Japan that “I did it” or “I killed her.”
Proulx said the accused’s incriminating actions included him acquiring the suitcase to dispose of the body and being seen wheeling it toward a homeless shelter where he had been staying.
“Consider why did he acquire the suitcase? Because he knew that he had caused the death of Natsumi Kogawa and needed it to transport her body and dispose of it undetected in a place other than where the offence occurred.”
Proulx said that Schneider had to think about how he could dispose of the body, what he could get to enable himself to dispose of the body and where to obtain it.
He said it must have taken considerable effort to transport the body, given the weight of the victim, and asserted that the accused went to “considerable efforts” to move the body to a location where it would never be discovered.
“Why would the accused do any of this but to conceal his culpability in causing Natsumi Kogawa’s death?”
The accused sat quietly in the prisoner’s dock during the submissions, which took most of Monday. The trial began three weeks ago.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Laura Gerow is expected to charge the jury Tuesday after which the jury will begin their deliberations.