The California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to hear the case of a man convicted of hiring an assassin to stage a robbery and kill his 17-year-old wife in a La Mirada park in 1992 in a crime that went unsolved for nearly two decades.
Morrad Ghonim, now 45, is serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole for the July 23, 1992, slaying of Victoria Ghonim, who was fatally shot while sitting in a car with Morrad and their infant son in La Mirada Creek Park.
Jurors found Ghonim guilty in November 2016 of first-degree murder.
The panel also found true the special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and murder for financial gain, along with a gun allegation.
In a March 26 ruling, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld Ghonim’s conviction.
The appellate court justices rejected the defense’s contention that testimony by Ghonim’s second wife — whom he married after Victoria Ghonim’s death — about threats he had allegedly made to her in December 2012 should have been protected under marital privilege.
Ghonim allegedly told his second wife during a dinner conversation, “If you ever think of getting a divorce, I’ll hurt you … It cost me $500 then, it won’t cost me much now,” according to the appellate court panel’s ruling.
Victoria Ghonim’s killing remained unsolved until 2009, when DNA linked a man named Leon Martinez to the crime. Martinez was arrested in October 2010 and convicted in March 2015 of first-degree murder.
Martinez later struck a deal with prosecutors and testified against Ghonim in exchange for a 28-year-to-life prison sentence.
Martinez gave various accounts to police and in court as to what Ghonim paid him, at one point saying Ghonim offered him $10,000 and actually paid $5,000. In other testimony, Martinez said he was paid only $500.
Ghonim was living in Antigua when he was arrested in connection with his wife’s killing and was returned to the United States in May 2015 to stand trial.
At a hearing in which Ghonim was ordered to stand trial, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Howard Cooper testified that Ghonim told investigators he was with his wife and infant son at the park, standing near a foot bridge, when they heard catcalls coming from a group of people standing nearby.
Ghonim said his wife began shouting back at the group, then the family hustled back to their car, where his wife continued to shout at the group, Cooper said. Ghonim said that as he was about to turn on the vehicle’s engine, he heard gunshots, and he quickly started the car and sped away, realizing then that his wife had been shot.
Cooper testified that Ghonim claimed he never saw the actual shooter, but sped away trying to find a hospital. He was soon pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer for running a red light, according to Cooper.
The CHP officer said Ghonim was sobbing, and the officer saw the woman in the vehicle suffering from a gunshot wound, according to the sheriff’s sergeant.
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