A 30-year-old convicted killer was sentenced to death Tuesday for the 2007 slayings of his ex-girlfriend’s father and sister and the attempted murder of her mother in Anaheim Hills.
The sentence was handed down after a morning of legal wrangling during which Iftekhar Murtaza asked to represent himself, five days after his two attorneys declared a conflict and asked to be relieved from representing him.
On Monday, a panel of Fourth District Court of Appeal justices denied an appeal of Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals’ ruling last week keeping Murtaza’s attorneys on the case despite their declared conflict.
Goethals today rejected a request from attorney Mark Fredrick for more time to take the appeal to the state Supreme Court. That prompted Murtaza to announce he wanted to be his own attorney, which Goethals also rejected, accusing the defendant of a “delaying tactic.”
Murtaza is “as manipulative an individual as I’ve encountered in all my years in this profession,” the judge said.
Goethals noted that Murtaza has racked up 25 major rules violations and 45 minor ones during his custody in the Orange County Jail.
“He has approached this prosecution as some sort of devilish game, a devilish game of chess,” Goethals said. “Well, Mr. Murtaza, today the game is over.”
Murtaza was convicted in November 2013 of the May 21, 2007, killings of Jayprakash Dhanak and his 20-year-old daughter, Karishma Dhanak, and the attempted murder of Leela Dhanak. In December 2013, a jury recommended that he be executed.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy said Murtaza’s goal was to kill ex-girlfriend Shayona Dhanak’s family to create a void that he could then fill.
The surviving victim could not make it to the sentencing hearing, but penned a letter — which was read by the prosecutor — about how the deaths of her husband and daughter and her own near-death at the defendant’s hands have affected her.
“The evil intentions and actions of one individual spread like wildfire which consumed and destroyed my family,” Leela Dhanak wrote. “Showing no outward sense of remorse, this individual seems incapable of any empathy or perspective for the result of his actions. I hope that one day he will realize the value of the Golden Rule and that his projected enemy was none other than himself, his ego, his anger, his jealousies and his own insecurities.”
She called Jayprakash “my soulmate and companion,” and said his death has left her with a “haunting sadness.”
Karishma was a “fun-loving spirit,” her mother said. “She personally comforted me when Jay was not around, and most of all I miss her hugs, which she would give me when I was down.”
Leela Dhanak said she misses her daughter “every minute of my life and I feel that I have lost a part of my body.”
Co-defendant Charles Anthony Murphy was previously sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for helping Murtaza carry out the killings.
The conviction of another defendant, Vitaliy Krasnoperov, was recently overturned on appeal and a new trial is pending. Krasnoperov broke his wrist in a motorcycle accident 10 days before the slayings and did not join in the the attack, but previously tried to contact a hitman, Gundy said. He was convicted under the legal theory of aiding and abetting the killers.
Jayprakash Dhanak was the first to be attacked while home alone. His daughter was attacked when she came home a couple of hours later, and both were put in a van and driven around before their bodies were dumped and set ablaze.
When Leela Dhanak got home from work later that night, the two attackers came out of the dark and grabbed her. She was stabbed in the stomach and felt her throat being slashed before she lost consciousness.
After she emerged from several weeks in a coma, she told an Irvine detective that one of her attackers was Murtaza, Gundy said.
Firefighters found the bodies of the father and daughter, who had both been stabbed, near a bike trail at Mason Regional Park in Irvine about 4:15 a.m. on May 22, 2007. The young woman appeared to have been burned alive and her throat was slashed. Her mother was found on a neighbor’s front lawn.
Their home was set ablaze.
Murtaza testified that he did not kill the victims and claimed that singer Bobby Brown’s son, Landon, was involved. During the trial, Gundy characterized that claim as “ridiculous.”
Murtaza was arrested on May 25, 2007, at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport while trying to get a flight to Bangladesh, where he was born and lived until emigrating to the United States when he was 9 years old, Gundy said.
In addition to two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, Murtaza was convicted of attempted murder for the attack on his ex-girlfriend’s mother. Jurors found true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, making him eligible for a death sentence.
—Staff and wire reports