An Ontario man who used “violence and fear,” to control his wife has been sentenced to life in prison for her 2006 murder inside her Brampton apartment.
Henry Morales, 47, looked on from the prisoners’ box in a Brampton court Monday, as Superior Court Justice Jennifer Woollcombe said that it was significantly aggravating that his wife Malena, 31, was the victim of a domestic homicide in the context of a marital breakdown, at the hands of a man who used “violence and fear to control his wife” and the mother of his two young sons, who were seven and 10 at the time.
“In killing his wife in their home, Mr. Morales abused Malena’s trust of him,” she said.
Woollcombe said a message must be sent that resorting to violence against a vulnerable intimate partner who wants out of an unhappy relationship will be met by deterrence and denunciation by the courts. Morales will have no chance of parole for 15 years, the judge ruled.
“Mr. Morales inflicted gratuitous violence on his wife before using his hands to strangle her to death as she called in desperation for her young son to help,” Woollcombe said. “He chose to instruct his son not to come in and that everything was OK.”
Immediately after the July 11, 2006, murder, Morales fled the country and remained undetected until he was nabbed by Mexican authorities almost 14 years later. He was then returned to Canada to face second-degree murder charges.
By May 2006, Malena decided to separate from the man she met as a teenager and had to call police to remove Morales from the home because of his controlling behaviour in a relationship that had a history of violence, the court heard.
The judge agreed with defence arguments that Morales’ sentence and period of parole eligibility should start on the February 2020 date he was arrested by Mexican authorities, noting the harsh conditions he endured in custody there.
Woollcombe also found it an aggravating factor that Morales, who testified at trial, did everything possible to deceive his family and cover his tracks, including cleaning up the bloodied room, staging the bedroom to make it appear that Malena was sleeping, and lying to relatives about her whereabouts before he vanished with no plan to return.
“The boys had a challenging upbringing, as their extended family members dealt with their own grief and loss and struggled with parenting the boys,” Woollcombe said.
Woollcombe’s ruling comes almost three months after Morales was found guilty of second-degree murder by a Brampton jury. The Crown had argued that Morales should serve at least 16 years before being eligible for parole, while the defence asked for 12 years.
The judge’s ruling also shed light on how Morales, who was born in El Salvador and immigrated to Canada at a young age, was able to restart his life in Mexico, including remarrying, having more children with a new wife who had no clue about his past, and forging a successful career as an English teacher.
Morales received a number of letters of support from his former colleagues in Mexico, some of whom wrote that he was a kind and committed teacher. Woollcombe also noted Morales has apologized to Malena’s family and has accepted responsibility for his actions.
He also committed to rehabilitative programming while in jail, such as anger management, a signal that he has a prospect for rehabilitation, Woollcombe said.
A conviction for second-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence; there is no guarantee the parole board will grant Morales parole when he first becomes eligible.
The jury rejected Morales’ testimony he had been provoked into strangling his wife during an argument and should therefore be found guilty of manslaughter. Testifying in his own defence, Morales admitted to killing Malena, saying he did so after she threatened to leave him for another man and take his sons with her.
At trial, Crown prosecutor Brian McGuire said Morales killed Malena, “while their children were in a bedroom next door.”
Malena was discovered dead by police two days later; Morales was nowhere to be found.
At trial, the couple’s oldest son, Henry Morales Jr., testified that he heard his mother screaming for help the night of her murder, and that his father told him not to enter the room.
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