Accused in first-degree murder trial of Windsor, Ont. woman testifies he 'accidentally killed her'

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Autumn Taggart's body was discovered in her bed on June 10, 2018. (Jolayne Lausch - image credit)
Autumn Taggart's body was discovered in her bed on June 10, 2018. (Jolayne Lausch - image credit)

On trial for first-degree murder, Jitesh Bhogal testified in his own defence Thursday telling the jury that he killed Autumn Taggart by mistake.

The accused is pleading not-guilty in connection to the death of the 31-year-old Windsor. Ont. woman on June 10, 2018.

Bhogal told the 14-member jury and Justice Renee Pomerance that he found himself inside Taggart's third-floor apartment early that morning and "after the screaming had stopped, I came to the instant conclusion that I had accidentally killed her."

Taggart's body was discovered by her son later that morning. The boy, who is 13 now, but was nine at the time, testified during the trial that Bhogal briefly came into his room. Moments later he heard screams that sounded as if they were coming from his mother.

Bhogal, 31, described during Thursday's proceedings what he remembers about how he ended up in the family's home.

He said he came to Windsor in the early morning hours of June 10, 2018 after consuming alcoholic drinks with some friends in downtown Detroit. During the drive, he recalls having a "impulse to visit a strip club," although he said that's something he normally doesn't do.

When he arrived at a local strip club using Google as his guide, Bhogal said he didn't get out of his vehicle. Instead, he saw a man nearby on the street who asked for some money. Bhogal testified this man also asked if he needed anything.

He said he asked for cocaine — a substance he claims he's never consumed before.

"I know of people that have recreationally used cocaine. I'm quite apprehensive about drugs in general. I guess I just wanted to see what the hype was about. I was alone, it was an opportunity to try something I wouldn't normally try," Bhogal testified.

"I've never seen somebody look at me in such horror or fear. The next thing I know there's a scream or person is screaming." - Jitesh Bhogal

The man entered Bhogal's vehicle and eventually sold him a small quantity of cocaine, he recalls, possible $20 or $30 worth of drugs. He testified he ingested the cocaine by sniffing it, and said "it burned my nostrils."

Bhogal said he asked a man for "a ball or an eight ball," which is the street term for roughly 3.5 grams of cocaine. It's a term Bhogal said he learned from a TV show he was watching and it "seemed like a rationale request."

The man, who Bhogal identified as Jake Thompson, eventually brought a woman, Michelle Altiman, to get him more drugs. Both testified previously during the trial.

More cocaine leading up to victim's death

The three drove to the McDonald's parking lot on Huron Church to meet someone else to get those drugs. At first, Bhogal said he paid for a small quantity and did "two or three" lines of that cocaine or "maybe more."

Bhogal said he gave Altiman money for the "eight ball" and drove back to an address on University Avenue West, which just happened to be right next to the victim's apartment.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

Once parked, several lines of cocaine were laid out again on the vehicle's centre console. Bhogal did four more lines of cocaine or "could have been a couple more," he testified.

During that time, Bhogal said the two drug dealers ran out of his car with the rest of the drugs and the money he had given them.

"I'm slightly upset. I want to understand why they did what they did. It felt personal. I felt rejected. There's fear and anxiousness," he testified.

Bhogal told the jury he then got out of his car to look for the pair. He recalls walking around outside, but then recalls "being inside somewhere."

"There's a woman who's head is back on the floor. There's a woman's purse strewn open on top of it. I recall being inside," said Bhogal.

At this point during his testimony, Bhogal took off his glasses and appeared to get emotional. At one point, he used a tissue to wipe away tears.

"Subsequently, I remember looking at a face and this face staring back at me … I've never seen somebody look at me in such horror or fear. The next thing I know there's a scream or person is screaming," he testified.

Windsor Police Service
Windsor Police Service

His defence lawyer, Peter Thorning, asked Bhogal how he got into the third-floor apartment unit and Bhogal didn't immediately remember.

"Based on what I know, it seems I climbed the balcony to get in there," he said.

"I remember there being a struggle. I remember asking for quiet. I remember asking that I just want to leave and please, I just wanted her to be quiet so I can leave," Bhogal testified. "I remember saying I'm sorry I'm not here to hurt ya. And then the screaming stops."

Accused says he performed CPR

That's when Bhogal said he began performing CPR, a skill he said he obtained in high school and college. He told the jury he tilted her head back, began doing chest compressions and started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

"After the screaming had stopped, I came to the instant conclusion that I had accidentally killed her," he said.

Bhogal said he recalls possibly moving Taggart's body from the floor into the bed, as he said it would be "indecent" to leave her on the ground.

He testified that he doesn't recall how he left the apartment, but only that he remembers ending up at his uncle's home, who lives in Windsor.

Bhogal's testimony continued Thursday, with crown prosecutors cross-examining him.

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