Iftekhar Murtaza (left) could receive the death penalty, while Richard Lam Nguyen faces 25 years to life in state prison.
Iftekhar Murtaza (left) could receive the death penalty, while Richard Lam Nguyen faces 25 years to life in state prison.
Right photo courtesy of Garden Grove Police Department

Murders Were Kept All in the Family

Opening statements begin today in the trial of a Garden Grove man accused of choking his 71-year-old mother to death, while District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has already announced he will seek the death penalty for a Van Nuys man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend's father and sister, trying to murder her mother and setting all three bodies on fire. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled Friday in that case.
Iftekhar Murtaza, 25, is charged with two felony counts of special circumstances murder, one felony count of attempted murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder. He faces sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during the commission of a burglary, murder during the commission of kidnapping, and murder for financial gain. He is being held without bail.

Co-defendants Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 24, of Hollywood, and Charles Anthony Murphy, Jr., 25, of Mission Hills, face the same charges and sentencing enhancements as Murtaza, although Murphy is tagged with an additional enhancement for murder for financial gain. They could get life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted. They are also being held without bail and scheduled to attend Friday's pre-trial hearing with Murtaza.

Here's how the case breaks down, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office:

On March 29, 2007, 18-year-old Shayona Dhanak, a UC Irvine fresman who lived in the campus dorms, ended a two-year dating relationship with Murtaza. Her family in Anaheim Hills disapproved of the relationship partly because they were practicing Hindus and Murtaza was a non-practicing Muslim.

Murtaza allegedly became angry over the break-up and blamed Dhanak's parents. He is accused of contacting his friend Krasnoperov online and telling him in an AOL Instant Messenger conversation that he wanted to kill his ex-girlfriend's father, Jaypraykash Dhanak, 56, and mother, Leela Dhanak, 54.

Ways to murder the parents, including burning their house down or using a hit man, were allegedly discussed via IM. Krasnoperov is accused of offering to contact someone whom he knew "used to do this type of work."

In an April 26, 2007, IM conversation, Krasnoperov allegedly arranged a meeting where the Dhanak family murders would be negotiated. Murtaza supposedly arranged to get photographs of the family by sending Shayona Dhanak an IM asking for a shot from her recent family trip to India.

In the early afternoon of May 21, 2007, IM conversation with his childhood friend Murphy, Murtaza is accused of offering him $30,000 "for a job" and arranging a face-to-face meeting that day to discuss the details of the murders to be carried out that night.

Sometime after 6:30 p.m. that same day, Jaypraykash Dhanak, who worked with his wife in Irvine, was in his house alone after leaving work and agreeing to meet Leela there later. Someone entered the home and forcibly restrained the father before beating and repeatedly stabbing him.

The man was left in the bathroom while his attackers awaited the arrival of the mother and daughter, according to prosecutors.

Karishma Dhanak, Shayona's 20-year-old sister, was dropped off at the Anaheim Hills home around 10:30 p.m. She was forcibly detained, and when Leela Dhanak  arrived about 15 minutes later, she was immediately attacked and stabbed in the stomach.

The home was then doused in gasoline and set ablaze as their attackers tried to move the father, mother and daughter into a van parked outside. But a witness who approached the home because of the fire disrupted their plans, as they drove off with Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak but had to leave Leela Dhanak unconscious on her neighbor's lawn.

The witness managed to flag down a passing patrol car, and an officer attended to the woman while the home was engulfed in flames and largely destroyed.

The mother wound up spending a month in the hospital as a result of her wounds, including about three weeks in a coma.

The bodies of Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak were found set ablaze on a bike trail at Mason Regional Park in Irvine the next day.

Anaheim Police detectives investigating the case indentified Murtaza as a suspect. He allegedly fled to Phoenix, Arizona, and was arrested on May 25, 2007, attempting to board a plane to India with a one-way plane ticket and $11,000 in cash.

He was later extradited back to Orange County and the subsequent investigation led the arrests of Krasnoperov and Murphy.

In the Garden Grove case, 31-year-old Richard Lam Nguyen is accused of strangling and murdering his mother, Nuong Nguyen, after becoming angry when she said she disapproved of his pharmacy studies and wanted him to become a physician.

The son, who is charged with one felony count of murder, is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine with a bachelor's in biology. At the time of the murder, he was a first-year student at Ross University in Dominica, located in the Caribbean, studying to be a pharmacist.

Late on the night of Dec. 20, 2008, he was in the Garden Grove home he shared with his mother when, prosecutors allege, she indicated she did not support his desire to become a pharmacist. He allegedly became so enraged that he strangled the elderly, 5-foot-tall, 80-pound woman with his bare hands in the bedroom.

Police earlier said Richard Nguyen then wandered the street outside for awhile before sleeping in his car parked outside the home. Ar around 10:30 a.m. the next morning, he called police to report that his mother had passed away. An autopsy later confirmed she'd been strangled.


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