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Retrial begins for dog breeder accused in rival’s shooting death

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Accused killer Boris Panovski has once again denied killing a Toronto-area businessperson over a feud about a hunting dog in 2014.

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ST. THOMAS – Accused killer Boris Panovski stood beside his defence lawyer on Thursday and, once again, denied killing a Toronto-area businessperson in 2014 over a feud about a hunting dog.

“Your honour, not guilty. Thank you.” the 79-year-old former dog breeder said in a clear voice to Superior Court Justice Marc Garson in an Elgin County courtroom.

He is older, his head and face are clean-shaven and he appears to be a little frailer than he was at his 2018 Goderich trial, when he was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Donato Frigo, 70, who was shot to death at the Hullett wildlife conservation area in Huron County on Sept. 13, 2014.

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At the same trial, instead of a guilty verdict to attempted murder as charged, the jury found him guilty of aggravated assault of Frigo’s wife, Eva Willer Frigo, who was wounded while the couple was riding horses at field dog trials north of Clinton.

“With the greatest of respect, not guilty,” Panovski said when the original attempted murder charge was read to him Thursday by the court registrar.

That marked the beginning of Panovski’s retrial after a successful 2021 appeal of the Goderich jury’s verdicts. The case was ordered moved to Elgin County a year ago because of a lack of judicial resources in Huron County. A publication ban that had been placed on the trial since it arrived in St. Thomas was lifted Thursday morning.

The case deals with one of the most bizarre and high-profile homicides in Huron County in the last decade and provided a glimpse into the closed and privileged field dog training world.

The Goderich trial was equally explosive, marked by almost daily conflicts between the Crown, the judge and the defence, and by Panovski, the often-smiling, outspoken accused who testified in his own defence claiming he was innocent and railed against the justice system in a rambling speech when he was sentenced to a mandatory life term with no chance of parole for 25 years.

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Six years later and weeks from his 80th birthday, after almost a decade in custody, Panovski is back on trial in a different community, with a different Crown, a different defence lawyer, Margaret Barnes, and no jury. This time, Panovski has chosen trial by judge alone, a decision he made last week.

What has stayed the same is Panovski’s need for simultaneous Macedonian translation – he wears earphones to hear the interpreters who are watching from a sound booth – and the Crown’s assertion Panovski planned to shoot Frigo because of “a deep-seated grudge”  sparked by an embarrassing incident in Gainsborough, Ga., years earlier and after Panovski had sold Frigo a prize-winning dog.

Assistant Crown attorney Kelsey Good, in the prosecution’s opening address, said Panovski “blamed Mr. Frigo for the loss of his esteemed reputation in the bird dog world.”

Good said Panovski did research and made plans before he “ambushed” the couple at the field dog trials, then sped back to Scarborough, where he cleaned his car, gave away personal belongings, withdrew $10,000, cancelled his gym membership, finalized other personal affairs and took off to Macedonia.

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“All this evidence pieced together provides an overwhelming circumstantial case that points to one person and one person only responsible for this crime and that is Boris Panovski,” she said.

The last trial had more than 100 exhibits, which were dusted off and brought into the courtroom Thursday. Witnesses are going to be asked to dig deep into their memory banks to recall details 10 years after the Frigos were attacked.

The first witness called was OPP Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Myatt, an identification officer who was a constable at the time of the shooting.

He described receiving a phone call to go to the rural area, then was dispatched to Clinton Public Hospital where he met Willer Frigo and photographed her injuries.

Under questioning from assistant Crown attorney Elizabeth Brown, Myatt said he found the injured spouse in an examination room, where she was “anxious and upset.”

“She wanted us to go and find the person who shot her husband,” he said. Myatt noted she was “distraught” and had an injury on her face and blood on her hands.

The court was shown photos of an injury on the left side of Willer Frigo’s face, just above her mouth.

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Myatt was asked to identify crime scene photos at the idyllic nature area. He pointed out a blood trail on Conservation Road leading to Frigo’s body.

He also pointed out white plastic 20-gauge shotgun wadding discovered near the road.

Garson gave Myatt “a gentle reminder” to rely only on his notes to refresh his memory, but added, given the passage of time, he would be “dumbfounded” if the officer didn’t have to refer to them during his testimony.

Myatt is expected to return to the witness box on Friday.

jsims@postmedia.com

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