Murder trial looms

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LOCAL NEWS / Lover faces charges in death of Barn founder Janko Naglic James Dubro / Toronto Xtra / Thursday, January 17, 2008

The trial of Ivan Mendez-Romero, charged with first-degree murder of Church St businessman Janko Naglic, is scheduled to begin the first week of February. If convicted Mendez-Romero faces a maximum life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. He has been in jail awaiting trial since 2005.

Naglic, founder and longtime owner of the legendary Church St nightclub the Barn, was found dead in his upscale Davisville home on Oct 27, 2004. His body had been bound and gagged. The coroner determined that the cause of death was asphyxiation.

It was Mendez-Romero, Naglic's lover and part-time housemate, who reported the death to police. During the following 10-month investigation headed by Det Sgt Peter Callaghan and Det Wayne Banks, police interviewed a number of witnesses who saw Naglic in the days leading up to his death. Detectives canvassed the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood several times and Crimestoppers issued posters and cards that were distributed around the village in the hopes of uncovering new information. There was a $50,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer. In 2005 Callaghan and Banks conducted interviews in Miami and Ft Lauderdale, Florida where Naglic owned two condos and a yacht.

Mendez-Romero was arrested on Aug 28, 2005 in what the investigators called a "high-risk takedown."

In a preliminary hearing, which concluded last summer, Justice P Newton ruled that there was enough evidence for the case to proceed to a full trial. (Because of a publication ban Xtra cannot report on the testimony and evidence given at the hearing.) Mendez-Romero subsequently filed an application to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal Newton's decision on the grounds of insufficient evidence; the court ruled against him in December.

The case against Mendez-Romero is circumstantial and largely based on the testimony of friends of Naglic's who say that he feared for his life in the days leading up to his death.

"He was in bad shape," Naglic's longtime friend Bob Grimson told Xtra in 2004. He described Naglic as usually upbeat, but when they spoke hours before Naglic's death Grimson described him as frightened.

Grimson told Xtra in 2004 that he spoke with Naglic for several hours on the evening of his death. As they parted Naglic allegedly told Grimson, "This must stop or I will die. My life is in danger."

Grimson, now 91, is set to testify at the trial, as is a former neighbour of Naglic's, also in her 90s.

A third witness, Kathy Drury, died of pancreatic cancer in late December 2007. Drury, an AIDS fundraiser from Mississauga, was a close friend of Naglic and had lunch with him the day he died.

Mendez-Romero, now 38, is originally from Cuba. Naglic met him while on vacation in Havana in April 1993. With same-sex partner sponsorship unavailable at that time friends say Naglic arranged a heterosexual marriage for Mendez-Romero to allow him to move to Canada. Mendez-Romero subsequently worked at Naglic's nightclub the Barn as a bartender and then manager. In March 2004 Mendez-Romero remarried. In May 2004 Naglic altered his will, diminishing Mendez-Romero's portion of Naglic's estate.

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