Lawyer says wife took own life

| 16/01/2014

(CNS): A local attorney employed at Maples and Calder whose estranged wife was found dead hanging from a door in her condo in April 2012 is taking legal action against the coroner who presided over the inquest into her death, which resulted in an open verdict. Andreas Haug has applied for a judicial review to have the open verdict in the case of Lija Godenzi changed to one of suicide. He accuses the coroner of implying he had killed his 43-year-old wife and of putting undue pressure on the jury to return an open rather than a suicide verdict. Haug claims that the coroner in the case, Eileen Nervik, QC, misdirected the jury over the evidence they should or should not consider, that she misstated the standard of proof for suicide and prevented submissions after her summing up.

The inquest into Godenzi’s death took place in November, and althoughthe police had concluded that Haug’s wife had likely taken her own life, at the inquest a number of issues were raised about the circumstances and called that assumption by the police into question. When the open verdict was returned, the police said that they would be reopening the case and they confirmed Thursday that the review into her death continues. The RCIPS would make no further statement, however, regarding the current status of that investigation or the legal action taken by Haug.

In the document filed in Grand Court earlier this month Haug does not ask for a new inquest regarding the circumstances leading up to his wife’s death but asks the court to replace the current open verdict with a suicide verdict.

In the background to the application, Haug’s attorneys say the autopsy report had suggested the death was consistent with suicide and at the time his wife was suffering from clinical depression. The lawyers also say that the police had investigated and were satisfied there were no suspicious circumstances. 

However, during the inquest the coroner and jury heard that the police had not taken prints from the home or conducted a full enquiry, and in her summing up Nervik had pointed to the shortcomings of the police investigation.

Haug accuses the coroner of misunderstanding the burden of proof and not taking into account new authorities. The JR application also states that there was no evidence capable of supporting any reasonable doubt that his wife had killed herself.

The lawyers claim that the coroner “erred by concluding the directions in such an unbalanced fashion that it placed improper pressure on the jury to return an open verdict”, and that what she told the jury conflicted with evidence. The application states that the coroner marshalled other facts in such a way that it amounted to advocacy rather than direction as she steered them towards an open verdict as opposed to the alternative of suicide.

The Maples lawyer also states that the coroner improperly included and then excluded some evidence, such as a note found in her room saying, “Just do it”, and neglected to point the jury towards evidence that, he said, showed suicidal intent. After summing up, the legal document states that the coroner would not allow Haug’s lawyer to address her on the law.

The lawyers also state that the coroner suggested that Haug could have killed Godenzi.
He said that in her directions Nervik said the jury should be concerned about the possibility that Haug may have killed his wife. She had asked the members of the panel to think about who would gain from Godenzi’s death, as the couple were going through divorce proceedings and with her gone there would be no need of a divorce settlement. Although there was no life insurance, during the inquest Haug, who works in the hedge fund sector, has spoken of some $800,000 to be settled in the divorce.

In his application Haug also states that there was no evidence to suggest that he killed his wife and the coroner erred when she implied he might have done so to the jury.

At the inquest the jury heard from a number of witnesses that Godenzi and Haug were separated and were going through an acrimonious break. The jury also heard that Haug had a tracking device fitted to his wife’s car and was controlling her finances. In addition, he refused to answer questions from the coroner about whether or not he had spyware on his wife’s laptop, which went missing after her death. The court also heard that Godenzi had planned a trip to her native Australia the week of her death and that she had been thinking about future plans to return to her profession of optometry.

See the full JR application below.

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