A 29-year-old Van Nuys man was accused in court Wednesday of brutally killing an Anaheim Hills man and his daughter and nearly killing her mother so he could leave his ex-girlfriend alone and "swoop in like a white knight" to comfort her and win back her love.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Iftekhar Murtaza, who faces two counts of special circumstances murder, a count of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during a burglary, murder during a kidnapping and murder for financial gain.
It took two trials to convict Vitaliy Krasnoperov and three for Charles Anthony Murphy Jr. to be found guilty for their roles in the same crimes.
Krasnoperov, 27, of Hollywood, was sentenced last November to life in state prison without parole after a jury the previous December found him guilty of two felony counts of special circumstances murder, one felony count of attempted murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder. Sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during the commission of a burglary, and murder during the commission of kidnapping were found true.
Murphy could get the same sentence at an Oct. 25 hearing. At his third trial last December, the Mission Hills 28-year-old, was found guilty by a jury of two felony counts of special circumstances murder, one felony count of attempted murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder, while sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during the commission of kidnapping, and murder for financial gain were found true.
Murphy, Krasnoperov and--it is alleged--Murtaza conspired to murder Jaypraykash and Leela Dhanak, the parents of Murtaza's ex-girlfriend, because then-UC Irvine freshman Shayona Dhanak's devout Hindi family disapproved of her having dated the non-practicing Muslim for two years.
But prosecutor Howard Gundy informed jurors Wednesday that was just an excuse Leela Dhanak came up with for Shayona to tell Murtaza because the young woman did not know how to break up with him, according to courtroom coverage by City News Service's Paul Anderson. Gundy went on to explain the Dhanaks did have some religious objections but mostly they just did not like Murtaza, who had accused their daughter of cheating on him.
Murtaza is accused of contacting his friend Krasnoperov to devise ways of pulling off the murders of the parents, and Krasnoperov was convicted of recruiting Murphy whom he knew "used to do this type of work." Why?
"He's going to create a catastrophe so terrible it will leave her alone--literally," Gundy said of Murtaza. "Then he's going to swoop in and rescue her like a white knight."
But Krasnoperov broke his wrist in a motorcycle accident 10 days before the slayings and could not participate at the scene, although he was later convicted under the legal theory of aiding and abetting Murtaza and Murphy, who was to be paid $30,000, according to Gundy.
Part of what sunk Murphy at his trial were cell phone records that showed he was in Orange County all day with Murtaza. They are said to have broken into the Dhanak home and beaten and repeatedly stabbed the father. They were waiting for the mother to arrive when, at about 10:30 that night, daughter Karishma Dhanak walked into an ambush.
Fifteen minutes later, Leela Dhanak arrived home to be stabbed in the gut and have her throat slashed, but she survived.
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The house was then doused with gasoline and set ablaze. The invaders tried to move the three victims to a van outside, but witnesses approached the fire scene and the van sped off with only Jaypraykash and Karishma in the back. Their bodies were found around 4:15 a.m. on May 22, 2007, near a bike trail at Mason Regional Park in Irvine.
Murtaza, who investigators quickly identified as a suspect, was arrested three days later at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, trying to catch a flight to his native Bangladesh.
According to Anderson's report, investigators suspect a third man helped Murphy and Murtaza with the killings.