Man who killed ex-girlfriend’s family should be put to death, jury says

Iftekhar Murtaza listens to opening statements in his murder case.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A 29-year-old Van Nuys man who killed his ex-girlfriend’s father and sister and set their bodies on fire should be put to death, an Orange County jury recommended Monday.

Iftekhar Murtaza quietly shook his head as jurors announced that he should get the ultimate punishment in the 2007 crime, which came after his then-girlfriend broke off their relationship.

Murtaza was convicted in November of killing his ex-girlfriend’s father, Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, and sister, Karishma Dhanak, 20, and then setting their Anaheim Hills mansion on fire. Their burned bodies were later found in a secluded area near UC Irvine.


The ex-girlfriend’s mother was found critically wounded on a neighbor’s lawn. Leela Dhanak was in a coma for weeks, but survived the attack and testified during the murder trial.

“I would like to take a lie detector test,” Murtaza blurted out to those who remained in the courtroom after jurors had filed out. “Anybody that’s interested.”

Murtaza, who blamed others for the murders, twice erupted in anger during the trial.

Last week, as jurors left the courtroom, Murtaza pushed a CD player and documents off the defense’s table. And during the trial as the mother testifies how she was attacked during the night of violence, Murtaza interrupted her. “That’s not what happened,” he said.

“I’m grateful justice has been done,” said Leela Dhanak outside the courtroom Monday. “I want to move on with my life.”

She said it had been difficult to sit through the trial and testify because it made her relive the attack. Her daughter, who testified about her breakup with Murtaza, is now attending law school and was not in court Monday.

Murtaza will be formally sentenced Jan. 10.

Murtaza’s attorney, Doug Myers, said it would be unlikely for the judge to set aside the jury’s recommendation. He said as far as he knew, no judge in Orange County has every modified a jury’s death penalty recommendation

The revenge killings, authorities said, were driven by Murtaza’s attempt to win back his former girlfriend, Shayona Dhanak, who testified that she decided to break up with him because he was overly possessive. She said to make the breakup easier, she told him it was because her parents were devout Hindus and he was Muslim.

She was the only family member not at home during the attack.

Murtaza reacted by concocting a plan to kill the family, even trying to hire Russian hit men to pull off the job, hoping that in the tragedy his former girlfriend would turn to him for comfort. He ended up carrying out the murders with a friend, who was previously convicted in a separate trial.

A portion of their planning was conducted on AOL Instant Messenger, which the prosecution presented to jurors.

The autopsy showed that Jayprakash Dhanak had been stabbed 29 times but died as a result of a crushing injury to the back of his skull. Karishma Dhanak had a large gash on her throat and bled to death, evidence showed.

On the witness stand, Murtaza tried to pin the slayings on others, including the son of singer Bobby Brown, whose name had never previously been mentioned in the case.


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