Man admits to poisoning Toronto toddler's cereal in plot against married woman
Published Thursday, September 21, 2023 1:52PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 21, 2023 5:27PM EDT
A Toronto man has admitted to fatal poisoning of a toddler's breakfast cereal at a Scarborough residence in 2021 as part of an "obsessive" plot against a married woman.
Francis Ngugi, 47, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of three-year-old Bernice Natanda Wamala at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto on Tuesday. He also entered a guilty plea in the attempted murder of three-year-old Samarah Sameer.
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Bernice died on March 21, 2021 after ingesting sodium nitrite while sleeping over at Sameer's house the night prior.
According to an agreed statement of facts, the children weren't Ngugi's intended target. Instead, the man poisoned the cereal in a failed attempt on the life of Zahra Issa, Sameer's mother, whom he'd become increasingly fixated on in the months prior.
“There are no words I can say to undo what I have done,” Ngugi read from a handwritten statement to the court on Tuesday. “I took the life of an angel, Bernice, and for that I am truly sorry."
Ngugi met Issa at an adult learning school in 2019, shortly after they both immigrated to Canada as refugee claimants – her from Tanzania and him from Kenya.
The agreed statement of facts notes that Ngugi and Issa engaged in a romantic relationship in 2020 but explains that she consistently rebuffed his subsequent advances, citing her husband and older daughter who planned to eventually join her in Canada.
Ngugi then became obsessive and jealous in his fixation on Issa, according to the documents.
In 2020, the court found he purchased a covert audio recorder and hid it in Issa’s bedroom, recording many of her “private interactions and conversations without her knowledge.”
After more than six months of reportedly unwanted advances, Ngugi snuck into Issa's Toronto home sometime between late February and early March and placed a lethal amount of sodium nitrite in the box of cereal, the agreement statement of facts reveals.
The chemical was stolen from the Scarborough food processing plant Griffiths Foods, where Ngugi worked as a janitor.
The documents explain that Ngugi's supervisor had previously warned him that “less than a teaspoon” would kill someone within an hour.
But he told the court that he didn’t intend for the children to eat the cereal.
On March 7, 2021, at about 5 a.m., Issa fed the cereal to Samarah and Bernice. After eating, Bernice immediately became violently ill. She was rushed to hospital where life saving measures were attempted, but after a seizure and two heart attacks, died at 2:16 p.m.
The cause of death, which was not revealed to Bernice's mother for weeks after the child's death, was a deprivation of oxygen to the body’s cells.
Shortly after Bernice, Samarah also began to display similar symptoms. She too was taken to hospital and recovered after four days of treatment.
When the children first began to show symptoms of illness, Issa called Ngugi, who rushed home from work and attended the hospital with her, according to the statement of facts.
Throughout this time, he failed to tell her or the hospital staff that he had placed the sodium nitrite into the cereal.
When Ngugi first spoke to police, he denied any knowledge of how the children became ill or the chemical itself. He said he wasn’t aware it was used at Griffith Foods, the documents read.
When reached for comment, Griffiths Foods told CTV News Toronto it was aware of Ngugi’s legal proceedings.
“First and foremost, our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers are with [Bernice’s mother] and the families affected by this horrific tragedy,” a spokesperson for the company said.
The spokesperson said Ngugi was placed on an unpaid leave of absence since being charged and has been terminated from the company effective immediately, adding that the company intends to cooperate fully with the investigation.
After Bernice’s death and until his arrest more than four months later, Ngugi continued to make advances towards Issa, despite the fact she was “distraught” and continued to reject him, the documents note.
In April 2021, Ngugi then contacted the Tanzanian embassy and attempted to report Issa’s husband as an immigrant living in the country under a false identity in an effort to meddle in her marriage. Issa then ended her relationship with Ngugi for good around May 2021, the document states.
Just over a month later, on June 19, Ngugi was arrested and charged with two counts of administering a noxious substance to endanger life, two counts of unlawfully causing bodily harm, and criminal negligence causing death. Those charges were upgraded to attempted murder and murder less than two weeks later.
In his written statement, read aloud to the court Tuesday, Ngugi said he realized he had “robbed [Issa] for all this joy and for that [he] is truly sorry.”
“Please find a place in your heart to forgive me,” he asked of the woman, also extending an apology to his family, counsel, the courts and the Crown.
A conviction of second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 10 to 25 years. On Nov. 2, Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestell is scheduled to set the period of time after which Ngugi will be eligible for parole.
With files from CTV News Toronto's Sean Davidson.