Life sentence for Dulnuan killers

Community News & Features Jun 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Intense court drama in Dulnuan case



The two accused suspects in the killing of Jocelyn Dulnuan on Oct. 1, 2007 in Mississsauga were sentenced on Friday, June 11, to life in prison after being found guilty of first degree murder.

The 11 jurors did not need be convinced who strangled Dulnuan but instead were convinced beyond reasonable doubt that they helped each other in committing the crime.


“It is just a piece of wire but it has changed everything,” claimed Steve Sherriff, the feisty Crown prosecutor, as he addressed 11 jurors to what maybe considered as the most electrifying murder trial in the history of Canada that involved a Filipino overseas worker. The copper wire that killed Jocelyn Dulnuan on the fateful day of Oct. 1, 2007 provided the key to the mystery behind her tragic death.

Akin to a court scene in Hollywood movies, three dynamic lawyers engaged in a battle of wits as they provided a compelling roadmap to win through the six-week trial case. As they struggled to find the best way out through a labyrinth of lies and misplaced facts, the public had the opportunity to witness a display of talents, recognition of heroic deeds and emotional pitfalls.

Crown prosecutors Sherriff and Carrie Stoddard maintained that the two suspects, Christian Figueroa, 37, and Fabian Loayza-Penaloza, 40, both had forcibly confined and murdered Dulnuan during a “grand scale robbery.” Loayza-Penaloza and Figueroa were tried before Justice John Sprout in a court in Brampton. The two immigrant men from Ecuador, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

According to the prosecutors, Dulnuan was considered a “serious risk” and therefore had to be silenced because she knew Loayza-Penaloza who had worked five years for her employer. On the other hand, she had to be eliminated before she could catch the attention of other workers who were outside the house.

A DNA taken from suspects and a testimony from one of their friends by the name of Gustavo led to their arrest. Diana Polley, a forensic biologist with the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto told the jury that the chances of that DNA belonging to someone other than Figueroa are one in 120 billion.

Figueroa was out on bail at the time of the murder. Prior to the murder arrest, York Region Police charged him with theft of 400 pairs of high priced sunglasses worth more than $160,000 found in a Range Rover which was also reported stolen.

Dulnuan was employed as a housekeeper in a 30,000 square foot mansion owned by Vasdev and Jaya Chanchlani. Her lifeless body was discovered by her female employer, a doctor, who saw Dulnuan lying on the floor, with blood around her mouth, a copper wire wrapped twice around her neck and with eyes open. She immediately called 911.

DULNUAN’s husband Sandy and daughter Angel

DULNUAN’s husband Sandy and daughter Angel

In one trial session, the members of the jury were brought to the scene of the crime. Driving along the street leading to the cream-colored mansion, one could not help but give a sigh of admiration to the colossal houses that are hardly covered by tall wrought iron gates and gigantic trees. The mansion can be described as eerie, yet tranquil. It is therefore not surprising that even if Dulnuan had screamed her loudest scream, no neighbor would have heard her.

The cross-examination period was described by some media reports as tricky and comparable to a “cat and mouse game.”

During Figueroa’s cross-examination which was facilitated by a Spanish interpreter, he appeared subdued. His oft-repeated line was “I went there to rob and not to kill.” When the crown seemed to have spotted his lies, he immediately used his poor English as a scapegoat for not understanding the question.

The bald-shaven Loayza-Penaloza can be mistaken as the cool actor in a stage play. The prosecutor strongly condemned his alibis. To the Crown, Loayza-Penaloza had mastered the art of lying. On the witness stand, Loayza-Penaloza vehemently denied having prior knowledge that Dulnuan was dead. He said he learned about her tragic death after one week. Loayza-Penaloza said he was too busy with his work that he did not bother to know about the girl and he simply “just watches the Weather Channel anyway.” Adding, he never thought that “someone can die if the hands were tied.”

“I swear to my kids that I did not kill this woman,” Loayza-Penaloza said.

Reading from his several pages of notes, Paul Mergler presented his client Loayza-Penaloza as the innocent man who was only there as a look-out. In Loayza-Penaloza’s defense, Mergler explored various avenues to convince the jury to spare Loayza-Penaloza and pointed Figueroa as the sole murderer.

Did Figueroa have time to commit murder? “Yes, he did,” claimed Mergler. He cited the manner in which Figueroa answered the questions during a cross-examination. “His tone of voice speaks of a person that is a liar. There were inconsistencies of his story and he even provided information without even being asked.”

Mergler further added, “ Figueroa was gone for 25 minutes, an ample time to kill Dulnuan and clean up his mess. With the way Dulnuan was strangled, Figueroa killed her in 10 minutes only.” Mergler told the jury that Loayza-Penaloza noticed Figueroa came out from the house a bit intoxicated. “He had to have a drink to calm his nerves,” retorted the lawyer.

Loayza-Penaloza, was also in doubt of why Figueroa told him “Dulnuan is tied up and I left her in the room.” Loayza-Penaloza, however, did not clarify further since he was more focused on the robbery.

With a determined voice, Mergler asked the jury: “If two men were involved, why tie her feet? Why tie her ankle when it can be done by only one man?”

When Loayza-Penaloza’s ex-wife visited him in prison, he vehemently denied that he killed Dulnuan. He scribbled some notes to his wife saying: “Figueroa was the killer. Figueroa was the one who tied her up. I swear to my kids that I did not kill this woman.” He swore to his wife that he never saw Dulnuan.

Mergler also said that Figueroa repeated many times the following phrase, similar to a mantra: “I did not go to kill. I was there to steal.”

Figueroa finally admitted that he was a participant of the crime. He also told police that he did not see Loayza-Penaloza tie Dulnuan.

The prosecutor, though, was not convinced of Loayza-Penaloza’s allegations. One of them being, he never knew Dulnuan and that he was waiting in a van while Figueroa was inside the house. Thus, there was no easy out for Mergler’s client. Mergler, though hesitant to accept Loayza-Penaloza’s mind-boggling testimony finally admitted that Loayza-Penaloza is a liar. However the relatively reserved lawyer was quick to defend his client and said, “Loayza-Penaloza may have lied at times but he painfully and successfully was closer to the truth. In fact, he voluntarily gave his DNA sample whereas Figueroa was hesitant to give.”

“He is not the regular knight with a shining armor,” said the lawyer of Figeroa.

Like an artist who can skillfully draw his model in accurate details, the lawyer of Figueroa portrayed his client with utmost perfection with an image of innocence and who was a helpless savior. Robert Tomovski said, that Figueroa tried to save Dulnuan but it was too late. “He is not the normal hero or a knight with a shining armor,” he said as he gave an explanation why Figueroa run short of becoming a hero. In an effort to save her, Figueroa was scratched which explained the reason why his DNA was underneath Dulnuan’s fingernails.

The articulate lawyer addressed the jurors with a unique opening presentation by giving a litany of their duties and responsibilities. Any law intern would have considered that moment a big opportunity to learn in a Law 101 class. “You need to decide without bias,” he said while giving them the essential elements that they need to arrive at a “true verdict.” As if asking for a plea, he added, “Do not judge or condemn him immediately based on what you have read or heard about him….. No matter how angry you are, please do not let your judgment be clouded. Administer justice fairly without prejudice… If you must believe in his innocence you must acquit… if you have doubt, you must acquit…”

Dulnuan’s mother with victim service staff.

Dulnuan’s mother with victim service staff.

Setting up a positive tone, Tomovski praised the jurors for taking part in this case saying, “I believe that you find it a rewarding experience; the most important duty is yet to come and that you need to decide on the verdict. You will collectively decide what are the facts.”

Then, he gave his major punch line: “Christian Figueroa did not kill or strangle Jocelyn Dulnuan.

Referring to his client’s unruffled disposition in the witness stand while answering the prosecutor about why he failed to save Dulnuan, Figueroa’s lawyer said, “Figueroa is a professional thief not a professional witness. He is not the normal hero or a knight in shining armor. There is no legal requirement to a save a life. He is not a Robin hood to steal and give it to the poor.”

Tomovski mentioned several elements that should be considered in acquitting Figueroa.

First, Figueroa always admitted that he went to the mansion to steal and not to kill. “He is a professional thief,” admitted the lawyer. “Thieves are after properties, not people,” Tomowvski explained.
Secondly, Loayza-Penaloza recruited Figueroa for the job by virtue of being an expert in unlocking a safe. So while Loayza-Penaloza was busy “attending to what he was doing,” Figueroa was engaged in taking the safe.

Recalling, Dulnuan’s time of death, he said, the murder took place between 2:57 pm and 3:04 pm and referred that time as the “window of time and opportunity.”

Then Tomovski delved on Loayza-Penaloza’s ex-wife testimony which he compared to something that “fits like a perfect glove.”

Refreshing everyone’s memory, Tomovski recalled the initial investigation of Sylvia Chiraboga, Loayza-Penaloza’s ex-wife. She admitted to the crown that she had a dream about her husband punching and then strangling Jocelyn Dulnuan during the robbery. Referring to what is sometimes called a pillow talk among spouses, the formidable lawyer said, “Initially, Chiraboga, described accurately the involvement of her husband in Dulnuan’s murder. Although she claimed it to be a dream, it was consistent with the evidence.”

Tomovski further said that when Chiraboga took her seat in the witness box, she changed her initial testimony against her ex-husband and instead pointed the blame on Figueroa. “It does not make sense that a wife will tell a police that her husband committed a battery and murder and after 466 days she had to change the story. Why does she have to wait that long? She claimed to have been mad at her husband at that time so she testified against him. But every piece of evidence was consistent of what the doctor explained”.

While Tomovski hammered on Chiraboga’s credibility, Loayza-Penaloza can be seen trying to lean forward, unable to accept his wife’s ultimate betrayal and attempting to shout “that is enough!” But like any other perfect liar, Loayza-Penaloza was able to remain composed. With his large shoulder frame that appeared to be shaking, there was no doubt he felt some sort of tension.

“If Chiraboga wanted to minimize her husband’s role in the murder, why wait after 466 days? Why a wife would change her mind?” Tomovski asked while looking at the jurors who apparently appeared to have agreed to this part of his presentation.

“Loayza-Penaloza is a big strong guy capable of carrying Dulnuan and closing the door,” Tomovski continued. “Loayza-Penaloza panicked and ultimately strangled Dulnuan. Figueroa was the only one who knew how to work on the safe.”

In closing, he said, “presumption of innocence is fundamental in our constitution. We have to convict someone beyond reasonable doubt.”

“If Chiraboga wanted to minimize her husband’s role in the murder, why wait after 466 days? Why a wife would change her mind?” Tomovski asked while looking at the jurors who apparently appeared to have agreed to this part of his presentation.

“Loayza-Penaloza is a big strong guy capable of carrying Dulnuan and closing the door,” Tomovski continued. “Loayza-Penaloza panicked and ultimately strangled Dulnuan. Figueroa was the only one who knew how to work on the safe.”

In closing, he said, “presumption of innocence is fundamental in our constitution. We have to convict someone beyond reasonable doubt.”

Crown says “Both of them killed Dulnuan”

On June 7, 2:15 p.m, everyone came back to the court room after a one hour break. The dreadful but exciting moment came. Every one was already anxious how the Crown would present his story. “I know he will do better”, someone from the audience was heard saying. ‘He won the other murder case last week,” taking pride on knowing a little bit of the Crown’s background. True to her expectations, everyone was impressed when the following words flashed in all the TV screens in the room: “What you can count on.”

Standing mightily in front of the jury with an expression and voice that exuded power, the burly crown prosecutor Steve Sherriff, in a matter of fact tone, started to address the jury, “If you function as a team, you will achieve justice in this case.” Saying further, “do not decide things that do not matter and don’t set impossible goals.”

Like a bombshell that was thrown out of nowhere, he hurled the most awaited statement: “I do not need to prove who strangled Dulnuan,” Sheriff told the 11 jurors who sat motionless and with eyes eagerly waiting for the next statement. “Both of these men are guilty of murder,” he continued. They must be convicted based on the facts beyond a reasonable doubt that they helped each other in the crime.

“Why was she murdered?” Sheriff asked. First, Dulnuan posed a serious threat to their robbery plan so they wanted to eliminate her. “She was alive when they entered the house and left her dead due to greed.”

Secondly, the men worked as a team because each one needed to protect each other so no one would be implicated. “It’s either they sink or swim together; that is, if Loayza-Penaloza gets arrested then Figueroa will be at risk.”

He explained that both of these men are guilty of murder because one can be charged of murder just by simply helping or aiding the murderer.

Then the Crown scoffed at the way Figueroa was portrayed by his lawyer as a “rescuer.” The Crown skeptically said, “if you are a normal rescuer, why didn’t’ you call 911? Did you untangle the wire when you saw her? You did not even touch her! You mentioned that Dulnuan turned purple, then the more you would have tried to save her.”

He pointed at Loayza-Penaloza sitting inside a prisoner’s glass box and told the jurors. “This man lied from the very beginning up to the end.”

He has worked for five years in the mansion, yet he told us that he has never been in the storage room when in fact the employer said that Loayza-Penaloza was the one who painted the doors.

He also mentioned that he and Figueroa never discussed about the safe containing cash and valuable items. “How can you go rob a 30,000 square foot place and you do not know where you are going?” It is a “robbery in grand scale.”

It is impossible not to have any plans on how to rob the mansion, he said. More so, Sheriff was persistent in his stand that Loayza-Penaloza was not in the van the whole time and served as a look out. “Loayza-Penaloza did not even see the other workman enterethe house! What were you doing in the van, then? Doing some paper work? So, why was he not aware that a man entered the house while Figueroa was inside? It is because, he was inside.”

The Crown described Dulnuan as innocent, strong and a happy individual. Prior to her tragic fate, Dulnuan was visibly a woman unaware of what was in store for her on that day. In fact, she went out for a bike ride and happily prepared her meal until these two men came inside. These men were on alert that someone was there. “Dulnuan was part of their plan,” Sheriff reiterated.

The poor girl upon seeing the two men gave her utmost “fierce resistance.” In her mind, according to Sherrif, she was scared that someone would probably soon molest her since one took the sweater wrapped around her waist. It was assumed that robbery was maybe far from her mind. Perhaps their motive was to take sexual advances, she must have thought. She was anticipating what they would do next so she struggled to protect herself. Her body marks proved that there was a strong struggle.

Apparently, 27-year-old Dulnuan was punched in the face with such force that her dental plate was knocked out. In an effort to contain Dulnuan, Figueroa obtained scratch marks which became evident when a DNA was taken underneath her fingernails. “Who wouldn’t be scared?” Sheriff said. “Here are two men who just suddenly appeared in the kitchen and caught her by surprise. One was someone familiar which made her more confused while the other one was a complete stranger and who spoke only in Spanish. These two men, were ready to siege violence against her. This “small girl” was alone in the 30,000 sq ft mansion with no one to cry for help to.

Why was this a team effort? “In order to subdue Dulnuan, one man had to hold her, the other one trying to tie her with the sweater that was taken earlier.” They also had to cover her mouth with a cloth so her scream would not alert the other workers who were working outside the house.

They tried to contain her in the kitchen. The assumption was, Dulnuan must have regained consciousness and struggled again. This was the time one of them took the copper wire from the storage room. “Who else will take the wire than the man who is familiar with the place?” He took the wire then wrapped it in Dulnuan’s neck, held it tightly until Dulnuan’s face turned purple. Whether they knew that she died is out of the question. They closed the door and proceeded with their goal: to get the safe containing cash, gold and diamond jewellery and 3 laptops (including Dulnuan’s laptop).
“Why barricade Dulnuan’s mother?” asked one

Filipino supporter.

From left: Fred Tomas., President Ifugao Association and his wife Josie Tomas, Coco Diaz and Imee Belanger during a break from the court hearing.

From left: Fred Tomas., President Ifugao Association and his wife Josie Tomas, Coco Diaz and Imee Belanger during a break from the court hearing.

Some members of the Filipino community were present to witness the court trial. Coco Diaz was one lady who never failed to attend a singlecourt hearing. “I’m here to support the family of Dulnuan. I do not like to miss one single day,” she said.

However, in one of the hearings, Diaz felt humiliated when she tried to approach Dulnuan’s mother but was suddenly brushed aside by one of the Victim’s Services staff. Quite angry with her encounter, Diaz asked other Filipinos present, “Why doesn’t she like to talk to us? At least the mother should acknowledge our presence and say thank you. Why barricade her as if the mother is the criminal?” It did not take long, the strict looking victim service staff came back to where Diaz was sitting along with other Filipinos and firmly told her in a sharp tone voice, “She does not like to socialize with you. She does not want to talk to you so keep away”.

The furious Diaz then wrote a letter to Dulnuan’s mother and handed it to her as she was leaving the courthouse.

The following day, Dulnuan’s mother apologized to Diaz while they were inside the ladies room. She asked everyone to understand her situation. She simply just did not want talk to the media and anybody else because she is hurting, “Pasensya lang po” she told Diaz. Whenever she passed by a group of Filipinos, she simply bowed her head. Godeliva Dulnuan, the mother, lives in Hong Kong, where she works as a housekeeper. An impact statement will be read when the case will be wrapped up by next week.

In an interview with The Philippine Reporter, Imee Belanger clarified that Dulnuan’s mother is just following the court’s instruction not to talk about the case. When asked why the husband was not present, Belanger replied:, “Her husband, Sandy, was not able to come because the government did not issue a visit for him although he would like very much to be around and witness the trial.”

The husband and their daughter are feeling distraught. Her daughter misses her terribly since Dulnuan used to call her everyday.

Jocelyn Dulnuan came from an indigenous farming community in Ifugao province north of Manila. She went to Hong Kong with her mother to work as a domestic worker. After working there for a year she came to Canada hoping to be able to work and sponsor her husband and four year-old daughter to join her. She obtained a degree in Criminology prior to working overseas. She held other jobs within the Greater Toronto Area since entering Canada on a work permit in 2006. Her body is buried at her hometown province in the Philippines.