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Man on trial in killing ex-girlfriend's relatives

Posted: October 16, 2013 4:00 p.m.
Updated: October 16, 2013 4:00 p.m.

Iftekhar Murtaza, 22, is accused ofkilling his former girlfriend's father and sister, attacked hermother and the family's Southern California home set on fire.

 

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — At the suggestion of her family, college freshman Shayona Dhanak broke up with her boyfriend and told him religious differences were to blame. Less than two months later, her father and sister were killed, her mother assaulted and left for dead, and her family's home burned.

On Wednesday, prosecutors told a California jury that the fiery attack on the Orange County family formed part of an elaborate and ill-conceived plot hatched and executed by Dhanak's then-22-year-old ex-boyfriend Iftekhar Murtaza to try to win her back.

Howard Gundy, senior deputy district attorney, said during opening statements of Murtaza's murder trial that hours after Dhanak split with Murtaza in 2007, he began chatting online with his best friend about ways to kill the family to eliminate the obstacle that had come between them.

"Iftekar Murtaza is going to create a catastrophe so monumental in her life that it will leave her alone, literally, figuratively alone, isolated and vulnerable," Gundy told jurors. "After creating this enormous catastrophe in her life, he is going to swoop in like the rescuer, like the white knight."

Less than two months later, Murtaza enlisted help from another friend to kill the family himself, Gundy said.

If convicted, Murtaza could face the death penalty. During the proceedings, his mother sobbed from a seat in the Santa Ana courtroom.

Defense attorney Doug Myers declined to comment on the case.

Dhanak said differences between her devout Hindu family and Murtaza's Muslim faith led to the breakup.

The trial comes after the convictions of two of Murtaza's friends for the killings and the sentencing of one of them to life in prison.

The case led investigators on a hunt for clues from the inferno at the Dhanaks' home in May 2007 to burning bodies found in a park the next morning to an Arizona airport where Murtaza had planned to take a flight to his native Bangladesh until he was arrested.

Prosecutors say that Murtaza planned to hire a hit man to kill the family but that his closest friend, Vitaliy Krasnoperov, failed to find someone.

After Dhanak told him she was going on a date in May 2007, Murtaza called another friend, Charles Murphy Jr., and offered him $30,000 to help him, saying in a text message that it was "a big deal" and that he would be "doin it" himself, Gundy said.

That night, prosecutors say Murtaza and Murphy drove a van from the suburbs of Los Angeles down to the family's home. Prosecutors say the pair attacked Dhanak's father, Jay, and 20-year-old sister, Karishma, and left her mother, Leela, with her throat slit, unconscious, on a neighbor's lawn. They set the house on fire and left, prosecutors say.

Five hours later, the charred bodies of Dhanak's father and sister were found in a brush fire in a park less than 20 miles away in Irvine, prosecutors said. His skull had been crushed and her throat cut before they were set on fire, Gundy said.

Several days later, Murtaza was arrested at an airport in Phoenix with a ticket to Bangladesh.

Murtaza is charged with two counts of murder with special circumstances of burglary, kidnapping and financial gain and multiple murders. He is also charged with attempted murder and conspiracy.

Murphy was convicted of the murders last year in his third trial. One jury deadlocked and another was dismissed in a mistrial. He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 25.

Krasnoperov was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison.

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