New inquest ordered in 'open' case

The coroner of the Cayman Islands will open a new inquest into the April 2012 death of 43-year-old Lija Godenzi, who was found by police hanging from a door in her Crewe Road home. 

The original inquest by Coroner Eileen Nervik in November 2013 returned an “open” verdict in the matter of Ms. Godenzi’s death, leaving the cause of death undetermined.  

Last week, Justice Seymour Panton, following a January judicial review of the verdict sought by Ms. Godenzi’s widower, Maples and Calder partner Andreas Haug, set aside the original open
verdict and directed a new inquest be held. This new inquest was
required because of additional evidence resulting from an investigation
launched by the RCIPS Cold Case Unit. It was a decision made with the
consent of all parties and there was no hearing on the merits of Mr.
Haug’s application for judicial review.*** 

A Jan. 7 writ filed in the Grand Court by Mr. Haug’s legal counsel asked the judge to overturn the open verdict, instead declaring the death a suicide, concurring with the initial police investigation. 

The motion claimed Ms. Nervik misdirected the jury, “sully[ing] the applicant’s reputation. 

“The coroner directed the jury that a concern at the forefront of their minds ought to be the possibility that the applicant killed Ms. Godenzi,” the writ said. She had told jurors “the deceased had no life insurance. But who was to gain from her death?” 

The couple had separated five months before Ms. Godenzi’s demise. She had filed for divorce, and her lawyers had scheduled a hearing in July 2013, seeking maintenance and $20,000 in legal fees. 

With her death, Ms. Nervik told the panel, Mr. Haug would face “no divorce, no custody issues, no settlement issues.” The couple had two young children. 

The inquest also heard of a flawed police investigation in which little effort was made to find Ms. Godenzi’s laptop, the source of the rope used in the hanging or explanations for the tracking device Mr. Haug had secretly placed on the steering column of Ms. Godenzi’s car. 

Calling Ms. Nervik’s summation “error-strewn,” Mr. Haug’s writ said no evidence was offered to indicate he was involved in the death, and that many of the facts Ms. Nervik cited “were of limited probative value and should not have been emphasized to the jury.” 

Justice Panton ruled last week that “the matter [may] be remitted to the Chief Magistrate with a direction that a new inquest should he held …. taking into account all relevant evidence including the new evidence provided by the Review conducted by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Cold Case Unit.” 

The Cold Case review, led by Detective Inspector Dennis Walkington, started immediately after the jury returned its verdict. Mr. Walkington declined to comment on his findings, saying only he had started his re-investigation immediately after the inquest, completing it earlier this year. 

The unit opened the review, he said “because it was an open verdict. 

“I cannot say what I found. It is now in the hands of the coroner,” he said. 

***EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was changed Feb. 5, 2015, to reflect the following correction: On Dec. 19, 2014, we published a story titled “New inquest ordered into death of Lija Godenzi” in this newspaper in which we reported that Mr. Justice Seymour Panton had ordered that a new inquest be held into the death of Lija Godenzi. At the time of her death, Lija was married to Andreas Haug, a partner at Maples & Calder.
We have recently received a letter from the Court Administrator making us aware that one aspect of our original report was wrong. We initially reported that Mr. Justice Panton made his Order because he accepted arguments made by Mr. Haug’s lawyer that the Acting Coroner, Eileen Nervik, had “committed errors of law” at the original inquest. This was not correct and we want to take the earliest possible opportunity to correct this mistake.
Mr. Justice Panton set aside the original open verdict and directed a new inquest be held. This new inquest was required because of additional evidence resulting from an investigation launched by the RCIPS Cold Case Unit. It was a decision made with the consent of all parties and there was no hearing on the merits of Mr. Haug’s application for judicial review.
We apologize to the Acting Coroner for the suggestion that Mr. Justice Panton had found any “errors of law” on her part in reaching his decision.
At this time we are not aware when the new inquest hearing will be held.*** 

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