A free man

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CRIME / Acquitted lover wants murder case reopened James Dubro / Toronto Xtra / Friday, March 07, 2008

At a Mar 5 press conference Ivan Mendez-Romero, the man acquitted on Mar 4 of murder in the 2004 death of his longtime lover Janko Naglic, told reporters he was afraid as he waited for the verdict.

"I was ready for the worst," said an emotional Mendez-Romero, according to a report from the National Post. He was facing a maximum sentence of 25 years had he been convicted of first-degree murder.

At the press conference Mendez-Romero confirmed that he had been offered the opportunity to plead guilty to manslaughter and be eligible for parole in less than two years, but said he rejected the offer because he was innocent.

"I'm not guilty, so if I've got to go to jail for 25 years to keep fighting my innocence, I'll do it," Mendez-Romero said, according to the Toronto Sun.

During the course of the month-long trial much was made of Mendez-Romero's 2004 marriage to Victoria Bunda. The Crown argued that the relationship was a source of conflict between Mendez-Romero and Naglic, leading to a confrontation at a Minden, Ontario hotel in September 2004.

At the press conference Mendez-Romero told reporters that since his arrest in 2005 he and Bunda have divorced, though they remain friends.

Mendez-Romero, 38, did not testify at the trial nor did the defence offer any other witnesses in response to the Crown's case, which was largely secondhand repetition of statements made by Naglic to his friends and associates about his relationship with Mendez-Romero. There was no forensic evidence to link Mendez-Romero to the crime.

The jury returned a not guilty verdict after just four hours.

At the press conference Mendez-Romero said that he had taken care of Naglic during their relationship and that he would never have done anything to hurt him.

"Why would I want to do this?" said Mendez-Romero, according to the Toronto Star. "I saved Janko's life many times diving. He used to drink. I take care of the guy. I'm very much babysitting the guy for the last 10 years. What reason would I have to threaten someone what I take care of... that I have no problems with at all?"

Mendez-Romero called on police to reopen the investigation into Naglic's death. But Det Wayne Banks, the lead homicide investigator in the case, says that all evidence lead to Mendez-Romero and there is nothing left to investigate.

Despite Xtra's extensive coverage of the trial — exceeding that of any other media outlet — Canada's largest gay news source was not alerted to the press conference. For Xtra's coverage of the trial see the sidebar to the right. Stay tuned for further details on the decision and reaction.

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