'You are the judges in this case': Jury trial underway in death of Windsor mom, under pandemic modifications

The jury trial of a man accused in the death of Autumn Taggart, 31, has started in Windsor’s Superior Court.

Jitesh Bhogal, 31, is standing trial on a single charge of first degree murder.

After pleading not guilty, Bhogal elected to be tried by a judge and jury.

In her charge to the jury, Justice Renee Pomerance said, “You are the judges in this case.”

This is the first jury trial in Windsor since the pandemic began, and it has changed how the court operates.

The gallery seating in the rear of Courtroom 1, where the public usually sits, is now where the jury sits in physically distant chairs.

The accused sits in what used to be the Jury Box, directly behind his lawyers.

The assistant crown attorneys, Ilana Mizel and Kim Bertholet sit directly opposite defence lawyers Peter Thorning and his associate.

Courtroom 2 is used as a jury room for them when they are not expected in court, for breaks and that is where they will deliberate at the end of the evidence.

The proceedings are broadcast via Zoom into two overflow courtrooms for the Taggart family, the public and the media.

In her opening statement, Bertholet laid out a “roadmap” for the evidence the jury can expect to hear.

The Crown alleges Autumn Taggart was sexually assaulted and the accused caused her death.

Bertholet says their evidence will describe how Bhogal entered Windsor via Detroit early in the morning of June 10, 2018 to buy drugs.

Bhogal, and two Windsorites, were parked behind Taggart’s apartment building, doing “a few lines of cocaine placed on the console” of Bhogals’ vehicle.

The two Windsorites left the vehicle and took the drugs Bhogal purchased, according to Bertholet.

Court heard Taggart’s nine-year-old son Gavin was in the apartment at the time of incident, and he told police “a man” entered his room and told him to be quiet.

Court heard the young boy couldn’t wake his mother later that evening, so he called his father, who discovered Taggart’s body.

Bertholet says a pathologist will testify Taggart died of suffocation and neck compression and that she suffered injuries to her genital area which are consistent with “forceful penetration.”

The Crown says swabs were taken from Taggart’s body, and a scientist will testify Bhogal cannot be excluded as a DNA match from samples taken from Taggart’s “breasts, mouth, genitals and under her fingernails” according to Bertholet.

The Crown says Bhogal returned to the United States early the same morning of June 10, 2018.

Bertholet says the Crown will be calling 30 witnesses over the course of the eight-week trial.

The first witness is set to testify Tuesday starting at 10 a.m.