Thirty years after single mother Barbara Brodkin was found stabbed to death in her midtown Toronto apartment, the man Toronto police cold case investigators arrested four years ago for the killing has been convicted of second-degree murder.
Charles Mustard, 69, expressed disbelief after Superior Court Justice Brian O’Marra told him he had been found guilty and was revoking his bail.
“I didn’t kill Barbara,” Mustard said repeatedly as he was handcuffed and led out of the downtown Toronto courtroom.
On March 19, 1993, Brodkin’s bloody and lifeless body was found sprawled out on the floor near the closet in her bedroom in her apartment on Balliol Street. Zachary, her six-year-old son, found his mother’s body and called 911.
Brodkin died from a stab wound to the chest. There were also indications she had been strangled. At the post-mortem, Brodkin’s fingernails were also clipped and stored.
From the outset, the prime suspect in the case was Brodkin’s ex-husband, Christopher Berry, due to their domestic history. The Toronto Police Service vigorously interviewed Berry four times, during which he denied he had anything to do with his ex-wife’s death. He had an alibi and provided hair and saliva samples. Berry was never arrested for the murder and died in 2009.
In 2017, police resubmitted Brodkin’s fingernails to the Centre for Forensic Science, which found DNA under her fingernails. A comparison with DNA from Mustard was done, which indicated his DNA could not be excluded. It was the only male DNA found under Brodkin’s fingernails.
On Oct. 19, 2018, Mustard was arrested and charged with Brodkin’s murder.
During the judge-alone trial, court heard that just one day before the arrest, police staged a mock news conference about the cold case in the lobby of Toronto police headquarters. At the same time, investigators had called Mustard down to 40 College St. under the pretense that they wanted him to sign some papers.
In a 20-minute video shown in court, Mustard can be seen standing in the lobby not far from where posters showing two large pictures of Brodkin are on display, her name underneath the photos. At trial, Mustard who took the stand in his own defence and said he recalled seeing some posters with photographs of women on them but testified he did not recognize Brodkin, only saying the women looked familiar. During cross-examination, Mustard told the court he now knows the photos were of Brodkin but claimed he didn’t know it was her at the time.
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Mustard also denied killing Brodkin. He testified he had not seen her for days, saying the last time he saw her was when she sold him some marijuana. The single mother was known to sell marijuana out of a little cosmetic-type suitcase from her apartment. That suitcase was missing when officers found Brodkin dead. She also only had $12 in her wallet.
Crown prosecutors argued that the motive for this case was robbery. Brodkin’s body was found lying inside her bedroom closet, close to where she kept her marijuana and cash.
Mustard also testified when he last saw Brodkin, they had shared a marijuana cigarette in her home. He said he would lick the joint with his saliva prior to smoking it and his saliva must have been transferred under Brodkin’s fingernails.
Court heard that Mustard has an extensive record for theft and sexual assault. He was let go from his teaching position after being charged criminally in 1992. At the time, he testified he was working in a restaurant and did not need the money.
After pretrial meetings with the judge, defence lawyers were permitted to explore the possibility that Berry was an alternative suspect.
In his verdict, O’Marra dismissed that argument.
“Christopher Berry was a bitter, angry ex-husband who had a history of death threats and assaults against his ex-wife and there were contentious issues surrounding their child,” O’Marra told the court, further adding that he lived just one block from the crime scene, noting that there was circumstantial evidence.
O’Marra weighed it against the fact that Berry had an alibi from the first day. He had offered his bodily substances to police for testing, and there was a thorough investigation by police in which no one claimed to have seen Berry.
“I am satisfied Christopher Berry did not kill Barbara Brodkin,” O’Marra concluded.
O’Marra said he found Mustard’s evidence about the staged presentation at Toronto Police Headquarters untruthful, rejecting the fact that Mustard did not recognize the large posters of Brodkin, a woman Mustard himself insisted was a friend who shared a mutual interest in smoking marijuana.
O’Marra said Mustard said he was shocked to learn Brodkin was murdered.
“Under these circumstances, you think her image would be seared into his memory. This was a lie on a fundamental issue.”
O’Marra also rejected Mustard’s evidence on the issue of moistening the marijuana cigarette.
“Based on evidence of the forensic biologist, it would not support the hypothetical, indirect transfer of saliva to beneath the fingernails of her left and right hand.”
The judge accepted the alternative theory presented by the Crown that Brodkin used her fingernails to defend herself during the protracted event.
“She would have been face to face with her attacker. She would have been desperately trying to defend herself.”
The judge rejected the Crown’s assertion that it was a first-degree murder based on unlawful confinement during the course of a robbery, saying there was not evidence to prove that beyond a reasonable double.
Herb Brodkin, the victim’s cousin, told Global News after the conviction, “I thought it was a very well-reasoned verdict. I am very proud of the judge for what he did.”
Brodkin said he is also grateful to Toronto police cold case investigators for never giving up on the case.
A sentencing hearing for Mustard is scheduled for next month.