By City News Service
Opening statements are scheduled Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of masterminding an attack on an ex-girlfriend's family in Anaheim Hills in 2007, resulting in the deaths of her father and sister and serious injuries to her mother.
Iftekhar Murtaza, 29, of Van Nuys, is charged with two counts of special circumstances murder, a count of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He faces sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during a burglary, murder during a kidnapping and murder for financial gain.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, so the first phase of the trial will determine guilt. If jurors convict Murtaza, they then will consider whether to recommend death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Co-defendant Charles Anthony Murphy Jr., 28, was convicted Dec. 12 of two counts of murder and one count each of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and jurors found true special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during a kidnapping and murder for financial gain. Murphy, who faces life in prison without parole, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 25.
Murphy and co-defendant Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 27, of Hollywood, were convicted for the slayings of Jayprakash Dhanak and his 20-year-old daughter, Karishma Dhanak, and the attempted murder of Leela Dhanak, Jayprakash's wife. on May 21, 2007. Krasnoperov was sentenced in November to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The murder plot was hatched after Murtaza's girlfriend of two years, Shayona Dhanak, broke up with him, according to Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy.
Shayona Dhanak sought to end the relationship with Murtaza -- who had accused her of cheating on him -- but she didn't know how to do it, so her mother suggested she blame the split on religious differences, Gundy said. The Dhanaks were devout Hindus, and Murtaza at the time was a non-practicing Muslim.
Gundy has argued in earlier trials that Murtaza planned to comfort his ex-girlfriend after the killings to win back her love.
Krasnoperov broke his wrist in a motorcycle accident 10 days before the slayings and did not join the attackers who fatally stabbed the victims and set their home ablaze, the prosecutor said. He was convicted under the legal theory of aiding and abetting the killers.
Krasnoperov and Murtaza had extensive online conversations about hiring a hit man to kill the ex-girlfriend's family, Gundy said. The two had trouble finding a professional killer, and when Krasnoperov dropped out of the picture, he turned to Murphy, Gundy said. Murtaza promised to pay Murphy $30,000, the prosecutor said.
Gundy argued in earlier trials that cell phone records show Murtaza and Murphy together in Orange County throughout the day of the killings and said Murphy had no plausible explanation for being in the area.
Murtaza and Murphy were accused of breaking into the Dhanak home, tying up Jayprakash Dhanak and beating him and stabbing him repeatedly, Gundy said. About 10:30 that night, Karishma Dhanak's friend dropped her off at the home and Murtaza and Murphy restrained her, he said.
When Leela Dhanak arrived home from work about 10:45 p.m., she was stabbed in the gut and her throat was slashed, but she survived, Gundy said. The killers then set fire to the house, leaving Leela Dhanak behind unconscious on a neighbor's lawn.
Firefighters found the bodies of Jayprakash and Karishma Dhanak about 4:15 a.m. on May 22, 2007, near a bike trail at Mason Regional Park in Irvine. Karishma Dhanak appeared to have been burned alive and her throat was slashed, according to Gundy.
Murphy was enrolled at Concordia University in Irvine at the time, close to where the bodies were dumped.
Murtaza was arrested on May 25, 2007, at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport while trying to get a flight to Bangladesh, Gundy said.
Investigators suspect a third man helped Murphy and Murtaza with the killings, but he is still at large, Gundy said.