Charges baffle suspect’s friends

Times Staff Writer

When defending Vitaliy Krasnoperov, a West Hollywood man charged in connection with two slayings and a beating so brutal that they have drawn nationwide attention, friends often mention his motorcycle and his mother.

The 21-year-old, who was working at a loan company and planning to enroll in community college, lived with his mother, Tatyana, and their black cat, Benny, in a small San Vicente Boulevard apartment. It was where Krasnoperov told friends he was couch-bound on May 21 while recovering from a motorcycle accident.

That night, about 45 miles south in Anaheim Hills, a woman was beaten unconscious, her home set on fire and her husband and older daughter viciously killed and dumped in a park in Irvine, their bodies set ablaze. The woman’s younger daughter, who was not home when the attacks occurred, had recently ended her relationship with a 22-year-old Van Nuys man named Iftekhar Murtaza -- Krasnoperov’s co-worker and friend.

Murtaza and Krasnoperov have been charged with two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and special-circumstances allegations that could make both men subject to the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. On Friday, their arraignments were continued until Aug. 10.

During Krasnoperov’s hearing in Orange County Superior Court, his mother and about a half-dozen relatives and friends scooted to the edge of their chairs to catch a glimpse of him as he talked with his attorney from behind a transparent partition.


“He’s OK. He’s OK,” the attorney, Dmitry Gurovich of Sherman Oaks, said after Friday’s hearing. “He’s absolutely shocked about the arrest.”

Krasnoperov has thus far proven to be an enigmatic figure. He appears to have no direct link to the victims, and authorities, citing the ongoing investigation, have yet to publicly explain his alleged involvement.

His friends are baffled. “What would be his motive for wanting to murder a family?” asked Inna Zazulevskaya, 22, a recent UC San Diego graduate who said she has known him since sixth grade.

Krasnoperov and his mother emigrated from Ukraine when he was a boy, she said. He was a class clown with “thousands of jokes” who speaks Russian and English and is handy with computers. Even though he had a fever, he had helped Zazulevskaya move to San Diego. “He’s like a brother,” she said. He “makes you laugh and gets overprotective.”

A “very mannered” guy who opened doors for women and offered them his jacket when the weather was cold, Krasnoperov is close to his mother, who works at a Beverly Hills spa and at one point ran a limousine company, public records show.

Olga Gritsenko, a family acquaintance, told The Times in an e-mail that Krasnoperov made sure his mom got flowers for Mother’s Day, which “shows that Vitaliy is a wonderful son and a loving person with a good heart.”

“Vitaliy is a polite young man, who always offered to help me carry my groceries from the car,” she said. “I am lucky to know such a nice, caring young man and am proud of knowing him,” Gritsenko wrote.

After graduating from high school, Krasnoperov took some college courses and lived in Northern California and New York before returning to Southern California about two years ago. “He missed his mom,” Zazulevskaya said.

While mulling taking classes at Santa Monica College in hopes of transferring to UCLA, Krasnoperov began working at Murtaza’s loan company in Van Nuys. The two were friends who worked out and partied together, friends said.

It is unclear how well Krasnoperov knew Murtaza’s girlfriend of three years, Shayona Dhanak, an 18-year-old UC Irvine student. Dhanak ended the relationship with Murtaza this spring at the behest of her devoutly Hindu family, who had frowned on her dating a Muslim, according to court documents. Murtaza had told friends he wanted to work out the conflict with Dhanak’s parents and eventually marry her.

On May 21, just before midnight, authorities arrived at the Dhanaks’ burning Anaheim Hills home and found Shayona Dhanak’s mother, Leela, bludgeoned and unconscious in a neighbor’s yard. The next morning, the bodies of Shayona Dhanak’s father, Jayprakash, and her 20-year-old sister, Karishma, were discovered in an Irvine park. The victims had been strangled, bludgeoned, burned and stabbed, according to court records.

Murtaza’s cellphone was used near the crime scene an hour or so before the house fire, court records indicate, although Murtaza told authorities he wasn’t in Anaheim Hills that night. He was arrested a few days later at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport while carrying a ticket to Bangladesh. He said he was going to visit his ailing grandmother; authorities said it was a one-way ticket.

Krasnoperov, meanwhile, told friends that during the crime rampage in Anaheim Hills, he was at home recovering from a May 12 accident that totaled his motorcycle. He was en route to a beach party when a vehicle cut him off in Culver City, Zazulevskaya said. He slammed on the brakes, was tossed from the bike and broke his right wrist in three places, she said. Culver City police have confirmed that the accident occurred, but would not release details.

After the slayings, investigators interviewed Krasnoperov and other people who worked with Murtaza. They also searched Krasnoperov’s apartment, taking his computer and identification cards, Zazulevskaya said.

When Krasnoperov visited a female friend in Arizona in June, he took a Greyhound bus “because he did not want to drive for eight hours with a broken arm” and no license, Zazulevskaya said. He had been to Arizona several times during the last six months, she said, although Arizona court records said Krasnoperov might have “fled California to avoid prosecution.”

Investigators told Krasnoperov that taking the trip was OK, according to Zazulevskaya and Maria Tourtchaninova, the Arizona State University student he visited. But on June 14, authorities arrested him at a Mesa, Ariz., home where Tourtchaninova’s family lives.

When Zazulevskaya talked to Krasnoperov in Orange County Jail recently, he calmed her down when she began to cry. “He wants to put on a brave face for his mom, for all of his friends,” she said.

Krasnoperov’s mother visits him every weekend and regularly writes him letters. At a court appearance several weeks ago, she called out to reporters in the hallway: “Innocent. My son is innocent, you will see.”