NEARLY four years after Eduardo Balaquit was last seen alive, the location of his body remains a mystery — but there is no question why he was killed, a jury was told Monday.

NEARLY four years after Eduardo Balaquit was last seen alive, the location of his body remains a mystery — but there is no question why he was killed, a jury was told Monday.

<p>Winnipeg Police Service handout</p><p>Eduardo Balaquit was last seen in 2018. His body has never been found.</p>

Winnipeg Police Service handout

Eduardo Balaquit was last seen in 2018. His body has never been found.

"This is a case of a man driven by desperation and the desperate measures he took on June 4, 2018, that cost Eduardo Balaquit his life," prosecutor Vanessa Gama told jurors in an opening address outlining the Crown’s case against Kyle Pietz.

Pietz, 36, is on trial for manslaughter.

Prosecutors allege Pietz killed 59-year-old Balaquit while robbing him of his debit card and forcing him to disclose his PIN.

"What would it take for you to give your PIN to a stranger or to someone you are not close to?" Gama said. "The Crown will argue… that a reasonable person could foresee at least a risk of bodily harm to a victim in the process of committing a robbery. Especially for something so deeply protected as a PIN."

Pietz had previously worked at the same Keewatin Street business — Westcon Equipment and Rentals — where Balaquit had a long-standing contract as a cleaner, Gama told jurors.

After Pietz finished his shift at Westcon on April 24, 2018, approximately $1,700 was stolen from a petty cash box.

"Mr. Pietz’ fingerprints would be found on a pamphlet that was used to jimmy a lock to the building," Gama said.

Pietz stopped showing up for work, quitting Westcon altogether May 16. By June 4, his personal cheques were bouncing and he had no money left in his bank account.

"For Kyle Pietz, it was financial rock bottom," Gama said.

Kyle Pietz leaves the Law Courts Building on Monday afternoon after the first day of his trial. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Kyle Pietz leaves the Law Courts Building on Monday afternoon after the first day of his trial. (Winnipeg Free Press)

The evening of June 4, Balaquit arrived at Westcon, as he had every weeknight for the previous 22 years, entering his alarm code at 6:05 p.m., "and he was never seen or heard from ever again."

That same night, just before closing, a Westcon employee reported seeing Pietz circling the building.

"For Kyle Pietz, we say, desperate times called for desperate measures and for Kyle Pietz, Eduardo Balaquit would become the answer to his money problems," Gama said. "This is a case about financial desperation."

Balaquit was the first member of his family to immigrate to Canada and worked three jobs trying to make a better life for his children, son Edward Balaquit testified Monday.

"He wanted us to have more than he did," Edward said.

“For Kyle Pietz, we say, desperate times called for desperate measures and for Kyle Pietz, Eduardo Balaquit would become the answer to his money problems.” – prosecutor Vanessa Gama

Family members were immediately worried when Balaquit didn’t return home that night and didn’t answer his cellphone.

"He would never ignore a call from me, my sons or my family," said wife Iluminada Balaquit.

Iluminada and sons Edward and Erwin said Balaquit always returned home when expected and didn’t suffer from any physical or mental health issues that might explain his disappearance.

"My explanation is something really bad happened to him," Iluminada said.

Iluminada Balaquit and sons Edward and Erwin said Eduardo Balaquit always returned home when expected and didn’t suffer from any physical or mental health issues that might explain his disappearance. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Iluminada Balaquit and sons Edward and Erwin said Eduardo Balaquit always returned home when expected and didn’t suffer from any physical or mental health issues that might explain his disappearance. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Edward said family members and volunteers spent nearly a month searching around Arborg, 100 kilometres north of Winnipeg, after learning police had identified it as "an area of interest."

Later in the trial, the Crown said, jurors will hear evidence Balaquit’s debit card being used to withdraw money at an Ellice Avenue convenience store the night Balaquit disappeared, and hear testimony from Pietz’ two sisters about who they believe is depicted in security video using the debit card.

Jurors will also hear testimony from a police officer who questioned Pietz the day after Balaquit disappeared.

"Listen closely to what Mr. Pietz told (police) was the reason he was at Westcon (June 4), what contact he had with Eduardo Balaquit and how long he said he was there for," Gama said.

Pietz remains free on bail. The trial is set for six weeks.

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.