SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A young woman testified Thursday that her ex-boyfriend grew possessive and violent in the weeks before her father and sister were killed in a fiery attack on their California home that prosecutors say was an elaborate plot by the man to try to win her back.
Speaking in a calm, firm voice, Shayona Dhanak told jurors in a Santa Ana courtroom that a then-22-year-old Iftekhar Murtaza punched one of her male friends at a fundraiser for her college dance team and tried to discuss their relationship with her at parties. She said Murtaza kept blaming her parents' opposition to them dating for the breakup, though she told him she had only
used them as an excuse.
"It's not my parents," she testified having said shortly before the attack. "It's you I'm tired of."
Dhanak's testimony came in the trial of Murtaza on charges of killing Dhanak's father and sister and assaulting her mother and leaving her for dead outside the family's burning home in an upscale Orange County suburb in 2007. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Prosecutors contend the attack was part of Murtaza's plan to eliminate the family as an obstacle to his two-year relationship with the college freshman as she had blamed the breakup on religious differences between her devout Hindu family and his Muslim faith. After the split, Murtaza chatted online with his best friend about hiring a hitman to kill the family, but when Dhanak started dating someone else, he decided to carry out the murders himself, prosecutors said.
In May 2007, Murtaza and a friend attacked Dhanak's father and 20-year-old sister, left her mother with her throat slit and unconscious on a neighbor's lawn, and set the family's Anaheim Hills house
on fire, prosecutors said. Five hours later, the charred, stabbed bodies of Jay and Karishma Dhanakm were found burning in a park about two miles from Dhanak's dorm room at University of California, Irvine.
That morning, Dhanak testified, police showed up at her door. Murtaza repeatedly called her cellphone as she was being interviewed by a detective, who answered and told him to stop calling.
Two days later, Murtaza told her he was going to be leaving.
"I said that's dumb. When there's a case going on like this, why would you leave the country?" Dhanak told jurors.
Murtaza was arrested the next day at an airport in Phoenix with a ticket to his native Bangladesh.
Murtaza has pleaded not guilty. His defense lawyers have declined to comment on the case and did not make an opening statement.
In a 2007 jail interview, Murtaza told the Orange County Register he couldn't commit such a ruthless crime.
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.
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.