Defence questions credibility of Crown witness in Windsor murder trial

The first degree murder trial of Jitesh Bhogal, 31, into the 2018 killing of Autumn Taggart, continues.

Michelle Altiman resumed her testimony Thursday in Superior court, after being “too ill” to testify on Wednesday.

Altiman has told the jury she and her friend Jake Thompson helped Bhogal purchase cocaine on June 10, 2018.

“We were planning to take his dope,” Altiman testified. “We (Altiman and Thompson) discussed about ‘having a fish.’”

Altiman told the jury that was “street slang” for having someone to “reel in” and steal from them.

Altiman says Bhogal used the name “Jay” in the time they were together, but on Tuesday she identified “Jay” was the same “gentleman” who was sitting in the courtroom.

Previous testimony heard Altiman and Thompson had Bhogal parked behind Taggart’s apartment building because it was next door to the “crack house” they lived in on University Avenue, east of McKay Avenue.

Altiman told the jury after robbing Bhogal of his drugs, she returned a few hours later to try to steal the rest of his cash, but found the vehicle was locked and Bhogal was gone.

On cross examination, defence lawyer Peter Thorning poked holes in Altiman’s evidence, which differed between her initial statements to police and her testimony at various court appearances.

Altiman testified this week she wasn’t intoxicated on June 10 but in her statements to police in 2018 Thorning pointed out she told them she was “staggering drunk” and had been up for four or five days.

Thorning asked Altiman, “is it fair that because you were bingeing, your level of memory is not very good?”

“I was under the influence, yes,” Altiman testified. “But I wasn’t wasted and I was aware about what was going on around me.”

Court heard on June 11, 2018 (the day after Taggart’s body was found) Altiman told police, “Most of the time I was drunk. I’m drunk now. I didn’t see anything. I was downtown all weekend,” when officers were canvassing inside the crack house beside Taggart’s building.

It wasn’t until June 13 when she went to police headquarters for a video-taped statement that Altiman told police about Bhogal.

Altiman was also forced to admit that she told police she occasionally “sold fake dope to Americans” but insisted that was something she used to do, but not on the night in question.

Thorning questioned Altiman about her criminal record, which includes numerous convictions for theft.

“This is apparently where I had gotten caught,” Altiman said. “I’m not on trial here. I don’t know what my criminal history has to do with it.”

Altiman also testified that she made “five lines” of cocaine on the console of Bhogal’s vehicle.

But Thorning showed her a previous statement where she said “he” made the lines of cocaine, referring to either Thompson or Bhogal, but Altiman on the stand couldn’t recall who did make the lines.

“My mind was getting out of the vehicle and getting away,” Altiman testified.

Thorning suggested Altiman has inconsistent answers about what she did with the drugs, her level of intoxication that night, how many lines of cocaine were on the console, even who’s vehicle they were in that night.

Thorning said to Altiman, “You’re not clear about what happened.”

To which Altiman replied, “You’re asking me things that were two years ago.”

Thorning and Altiman had a heated exchange about those inconsistencies, to which Altiman replied “We wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t remember what happened.”

To which, Justice Renee Pomerance provided what’s called a “mid-trial instruction” to the jury.

“That statement could be taken to suggest that the charge against Mr. Bhogal are a reflection of what this witness has had to say. The fact a charge was laid against Mr. Bhogal does not in any way reflect on the credibility or reliability of this witness.”

The trial will resume Friday.