Inquest mirrors previous 'open' verdict in hanging death

A seven-member jury on Monday afternoon delivered an open verdict in the 2012 death of Lija Godenzi, leaving unanswered questions about the apparent hanging and subsequent investigation.

After a six-day hearing, Acting Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez heard the panel’s ruling following a four-hour deliberation.

The 4-3 verdict reaffirms a conclusion at a similar inquest in November 2013 which generated both a “cold case” investigation and a demand for a new hearing by Ms. Godenzi’s widower, Maples and Calder partner Andreas Haug, who feared damage to his reputation.

After Monday’s judgement, both Mr. Haug and Ms. Godenzi’s brother Lance, who attended both inquests, said the verdict was a surprise.

Speaking from his Hawaii home, Mr. Godenzi said, “Lija’s family wishes to thank her many friends who gave testimony at this new inquest.

“We see the verdict handed down by the jury as a fair and just outcome,” he said, hoping it might clear a path for family visits and legal reforms allowing “expatriate wives to travel freely back to their home countries with their children after a marriage breakdown, without compromising the husband’s rights. Such reforms would help protect women like Lija at a time when they find themselves desperately alone and thousands of miles from the support of family and friends.”

Mr. Haug, speaking through counsel David McGrath, thanked Ms. Hernandez and the police for helping “finally draw this matter to a close.”

“The RCIPS, forensic and medical evidence categorically concluded that Lija’s death was self-inflicted. Unfortunately, we will never know whether she truly intended to take her own life,” he said.

He acknowledged that the verdict was similar to the previous ruling: “An open verdict is not uncommon in cases such as this, as a jury must be certain that a person intended to end their life in order to reach a verdict of suicide ….

“I am very relieved for all involved,” he said, finishing with a plea for privacy “as we all try to move forward and heal following this tragic event in our lives.”

In April 2012, police and Fire Service officers found Ms. Godenzi, 43, suspended from a blue knitted polyester rope thrown over the edge of a 7-foot bedroom door in her Old Crewe Road apartment.

The initial police conclusion was suicide, supported by pathologist Shravana Jyoti, who pegged the death to asphyxia due to hanging, reporting no signs of struggle, injuries or fractures, no defensive wounds, scratch abrasions or fingernail marks on her neck.

However, the court heard that the police investigation left unanswered questions about the death, including a missing laptop and the origin of the rope used in the hanging, while investigators had never dusted the two-bedroom home for fingerprints or forensically examined her two iPhones. Investigators also appeared not to be aware of Ms. Godenzi’s pending divorce from Mr. Haug and a custody battle.

A pregnancy and subsequent termination in Miami contributed to her difficulties, the jurors heard.

Police launched a new probe of the death within weeks of the 2013 verdict. Following a January 2014 judicial review of the conclusion and with the completion of the cold-case investigation, Justice Seymour Panton in early December ordered a new inquest.

Last week, witnesses testified to Ms. Godenzi’s condition, while Acting Magistrate Hernandez read aloud another 10 affidavits. Mr. Haug described his concerns for his estranged wife’s emotional state, and doctors recounted her intermittent efforts at counseling and medication, calling “not significant” traces of prescription drugs and marijuana in her system.

Lance Godenzi also appeared, disputing claims she had the competence to tie the particular knot in the rope around her neck.

RCIPS Detective Inspector Dennis Walkington, who led the cold case probe, said last week no one could have exited the bedroom at the time of Ms. Godenzi’s death, citing sliding doors locked from the inside, the position of the body, an upended chair, her right foot and her arm, resting on the doorknob.

“Lija Godenzi committed suicide by hanging,” he told the jury.

In her Monday summation, Acting Magistrate Hernandez recounted a note in Ms. Godenzi’s handwriting reading “Just do it,” and four texts written to her personal psychic less than a week before her death: “I need to die,” “I need to die in a big accident,” “Soon,” “Everything is bad.”

She also recounted, however, that Ms. Godenzi had booked a nine-day April trip – encouraged by Mr. Haug and her doctors – to visit family and friends.

Handing the case to the jury, Ms. Hernandez said suicide was legally defined as a specific intent to destroy one’s life while conscious of what one was doing, and that the deceased must have intended the consequences.

A suicide verdict meant Ms. Godenzi had performed a “deliberate act,” the consequences of which she intended to be her own death. The evidence, Ms. Hernandez said, had to be “unambiguous” and “beyond a reasonable doubt,” although she acknowledged that “assessing intent is difficult.”

However, she said, “if the evidence is not conclusive, you can return an ‘open’ verdict, suggesting the means or cause of death is not apparent.”

Detective Inspector Walkington observed the verdict was not unanimous, but that “a jury is entitled to deliver their verdict; it’s what they are there for.”

He acknowledged that it left open the question of Ms. Godenzi’s death, but “the police are not pursuing any active inquiries.”