The first murder trial of Vitaliy Krasnoperov ended in mistrial in May. Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals merged the Hollywood resident's tr-trial with the murder trial of co-defendant Charles Anthony Murphy Jr. Today, a jury in Santa Ana convicted 26-year-old Krasnoperov in the 2007 revenge-beating and burning deaths of the father and sister of the ex-girlfriend of Krasnoperov's childhood friend, as well as the attempted murder of the ex's mother. But now the trial of Murphy, 27, has ended in mistrial.
The jury unanimously found Krasnoperov guilty of two felony counts of special circumstances murder, one felony count of attempted murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder, and the sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during the commission of a burglary, and murder during the commission of kidnapping were found true.
However, the jury indicated they were at impasse with the similar counts against Murphy, with seven of the 12 favoring convicting the Mission Hills resident. Goethals then declared a mistrial. Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy said after Murphy would be re-tried and, sure enough, a pre-trial hearing is already scheduled for January 13.
The prosecution had alleged Krasnoperov and Murphy conspired with 26-year-old Iftekhar Murtaza of Van Nuys to murder Jaypraykash Dhanak, 56, and his daughter Karishma Dhanak, 20, and to try to do the same with family matriarch Leela Dhanak, now 57, at the family's Anaheim Hills home. Shayona Dhanak, then a UC Irvine freshman who is now 21, had broken up with Murtaza, who her parents disapproved of because they were devout Hindis and Murtaza was a non-practicing Muslim.
The reason for the earlier mistrial of Krasnoperov likely stemmed from his not having participated in the actual attacks but of having helped his childhood friend Murtaza in the planning and recruiting Murphy, who prosecutors say was to be paid $30,000 for allegedly helping Murtaza carry out the brutal killings. Evidence was presented at trial that Krasnoperov informed Murtaza via instant message that he would contact someone whom he knew "used to do this type of work."
"It seems a little iffy to put somebody in prison for chatting on a computer," juror Louis Kershner reportedly told the Orange County Register after the verdicts were read. "If you read the law and you look at the evidence, [Krasnoperov]'s guilty."
The Dhanaks worked together in Irvine, but on May 21, 2007, the husband beat the wife home by several hours, having arranged to meet the Mrs. there later. Sometime after 6:30 p.m., invaders entered the house and forcibly restrained Dhanak before beating and repeatedly stabbing him. He was left in a bathroom while his attackers awaited the arrival of Leela and Karishma.
After being dropped off at the home around 10:30 p.m., Karishma was forcibly detained. When the mother 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 the attackers tried to move the father, mother and daughter into a van parked outside.
However, a witness approached the home because the fire had spread by then. The attackers only managed to drive off with Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak in the van. Leela Dhanak was left 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 next day, the bodies of Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak were found set ablaze on a bike trail at Mason Regional Park in Irvine, which is also near the college Murphy attended, Concordia University, Gundy later informed jurors. Leela spent a month in the hospital as a result of her wounds, including about three weeks in a coma.
Anaheim Police detectives investigating the case quickly indentified Murtaza as a suspect. Shayona Dhank, who resided in UCI campus dorms, had ended a nearly three-year relationship with Murtaza two months earlier.
Murtaza allegedly fled to Phoenix, Arizona, where he was arrested on May 25, 2007, attempting to board a plane to India with a one-way ticket and $11,000 in cash. He was later extradited back to Orange County and the subsequent investigation led to the arrests of Krasnoperov in June '07 and Murphy in August of that year.
Evidence presented at trial included IM's the trio sent to one another via AOL. These include Murtaza allegedly telling Krasnoperov he wanted to bump off the elder Dhanaks and burn down their house.
Currently being held without bail, Murphy faces the same possible sentence Krasnoperov does if convicted at re-trial: life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Goethals is scheduled to sentence Krasnoperov on March 16.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Murtaza, who is also being held without bail. He has a pre-trial hearing scheduled Jan. 13.
Don't feel too sorry for the one-time loser at love: he married Marissa Star Bilotti while both were behind bars in June. She's being held at the Women's Central Jail for allegedly helping her ex-boyfriend kill a guy in Huntington Beach's Murdy Park in October 2010.
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- Iftekhar Murtaza and Marissa Star Bilotti, Held in OC Jail for Separate Murders, Tie the Knot Behind Bars