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Was it murder or was it suicide?

Conflicting stories heard on fatal fall

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THE Crown says it was murder. The defence claims it was suicide.

Details are emerging publicly for the first time about the mysterious January 2009 death of a young Winnipeg woman who fell from the 11th-floor balcony of a downtown apartment.

Alinda Lahteenmaki, 23, was killed instantly after plunging from the Manitoba Housing apartment block at 375 Assiniboine Ave. Police quickly charged her former boyfriend, Mario Trunzo, with second-degree murder after consulting with justice officials.

Trunzo, 47, has been in custody ever since while his case moves slowly through the courts. He applied for bail earlier this month but was denied last Friday. Queen's Bench Justice Brenda Keyser cited the allegations against him, plus a history of untreated drug and alcohol issues, as grounds for keeping him behind bars.

"The facts as alleged by the Crown are horrific," said Keyser.

There was no publication ban on the proceedings. None of the allegations has been proven and Trunzo is presumed innocent.

There is no dispute Trunzo and his much younger girlfriend had spent the evening drinking and doing drugs with several other friends, court was told. It is also conceded the pair began arguing. However, what happened next is very much in dispute.

A man who was partying in the same suite has given a police statement, claiming Trunzo grabbed Lahteenmaki and forced her towards the open window. He allegedly lifted her off the ground and dangled her feet out the window. "She was half in and half out and he says 'You want to die b h, go ahead and die.' She kept saying 'no, no' and I didn't see her head anymore," the witness claims. He said Trunzo eventually started yelling for help, only to let Lahteenmaki slip from his grasp.

"He said, 'Die b h' and let go," the witness told police. Another woman who was at the gathering claims Lahteenmaki was screaming for help, pleading with Trunzo to "Don't let go" in the seconds before she fell.

Trunzo tells a much different story, claiming his girlfriend took her own life. Defence lawyer Darren Sawchuk told court Lahteenmaki had made comments earlier in the night about killing herself by jumping out the window and even wrote a suicide note that was seized by police. He also attacked the witnesses who spoke with police, saying they were extremely intoxicated and gave conflicting statements that changed over time.

Keyser admitted there are potential problems with the witnesses but said it wasn't her job to decide guilt or innocence. Instead, she said, there was a "serious risk of re-involvement" in criminal activity if Trunzo was released. Trunzo had put forward a bail plan that included living with his elderly parents, who would post a substantial amount of money as a surety. He also gave a letter to the court from the owner of a local trucking company, who promised him full-time work if released from custody.

"He has many positive attributes, which would motivate me to give him employment. He has great interpersonal skills and qualities, he is a very productive, capable and dedicated, he has a great work ethic. He would be a tremendous asset to my company," Tony Cuda, the president of Tec Trucking Services, wrote in a letter.

Trunzo is set to begin his preliminary hearing on Sept. 27.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2010 B1

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