A jilted boyfriend turned into an obsessed killer when his girlfriend told him her parents wanted them to break up because he was Muslim and they were Hindus, an Orange County prosecutor told jurors in opening statements in a notorious 2007 double homicide.
"He wanted to possess this woman," Deputy Dist. Atty. Howard Gundy told jurors.
Iftekhar Murtaza, 29, of Van Nuys is accused of killing his former girlfriend's father and sister and burning their gasoline-doused bodies, which were found smoldering in a secluded area near UC Irvine. The family's Anaheim Hills mansion was set on fire, and the girlfriend's mother was found on a neighboring lawn, beaten so severely that she was in a coma for weeks.
"If you boil it down, what this case really comes down to is a case about obsession, manipulation and complete and utter disregard for human lives," said Gundy, the county's senior deputy district attorney.
Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty if Murtaza is convicted.
Defense attorneys didn't give opening statements Wednesday.
Gundy told jurors that after Shayona Dhanak broke up with Murtaza, he enlisted the help of friends to help kill her family, believing that by eliminating them, she would see him as a "white knight" and reunite with him.
Murtaza and one of the men he enlisted are accused of breaking into the family's home in May 2007 and beating and stabbing the father. When his former girlfriend's sister came home, she was detained, as was the mother.
The burned bodies of the father, Jaypraykash Dhanak, 56, and sister, Karishma Dhanak, 20, were found later near UC Irvine.
The autopsy showed that Jaypraykash Dhanak was stabbed 29 times, but died as a result of a crushing injury to the back of his skull, Gundy said. Karishma Dhanak had a large gash on her throat and bled to death, the prosecutor said.
Gundy also played parts of a video police interview of Murtaza, who was lured to the Anaheim police station under the guise that he might be able to talk with his former girlfriend. He told officers that he wished he could speak to her parents one last time to get their approval — unaware that the mother had survived the attack, the prosecutor said.
Murtaza was later arrested at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport with a ticket to Bangladesh via London and $11,500 cash in $100 bills.
The former girlfriend testified Wednesday that her parents didn't like Murtaza but that she secretly kept seeing him until her studies at UC Irvine became too time-consuming, which she said made Murtaza jealous.
Shayona Dhanak testified that she spoke to her family about wanting to break up with him. She said her mother suggested that she tell Murtaza they were breaking up because of religious differences in an effort to keep the situation from escalating.
"I [felt] stressed and suffocated," she said.