A 31-year-old man was sentenced Monday to 25 years to life in prison as a conspirator in the killing of a father and sister of a friend’s ex-girlfriend in Anaheim Hills nine years ago.
Vitaliy Krasnoperov was previously convicted of the 2007 killings and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but his conviction was overturned on appeal. In his most recent trial jurors deadlocked on charges related to the actual killings, but found him guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.
Assistant District Attorney Howard Gundy dismissed the three counts jurors deadlocked on in April. It was part of a plea deal that had Krasnoperov giving up any of his rights to appeal again.
Krasnoperov has credit for 3,449 days, or about nine years and five months, behind bars since his arrest in the murders.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals noted that “it’s clear that when these horrible events transpired … Mr. Krasnoperov was not there … He was probably at his house.”
Given that, “I think, therefore, this is a fair and appropriate reflection of his involvement in these horrible crimes,” Goethals added.
The defendant, however, must be punished because the law in California applies as much to the conspirators as it does to the actual killers, Goethals said.
The case against Krasnoperov “is a reminder to me why conspiracy law is what it is,” Goethals said.
“We will never know what would have happened (to the victims) if the conspiracy between Mr. Krasnoperov and (Iftekhar) Murtaza never occurred,” Goethals said. “But what is clear is Mr. Krasnoperov, by engaging so often and with such enthusiasm that he encouraged Mr. Murtaza to commit these crimes.”
The killings “played out in such a tragic way for the Dhanak family and it played out in a tragic way for your family to a lesser extent,” Goethals said, noting that the defendant’s mother attended most of the hearings.
“You certainly deserve the sentence no two ways about it,” Goethals told the defendant.
After the hearing, Gundy said he struck the plea deal with Krasnoperov “instead of putting the family through another trial. It seemed like an equitable solution.”
Leela Dhanak, who survived the attacks, declined to comment.
Defense attorney Michael Garey argued in this year’s trial that his client shouldn’t be held accountable for the conspiracy because the main defendant, 32-year-old Iftekhar Murtaza, who has been sentenced to death, engaged in a new conspiracy when Krasnoperov broke his right wrist in a motorcycle accident a little more than a week before the killings and, by all accounts, was not involved in the murders.
Gundy argued that it didn’t matter if Krasnoperov directly participated in the murders because the law still holds him accountable for helping to plan them and then obstructing justice after the fact.
Gundy also argued there was no second conspiracy, just an ongoing conspiracy that involved Murtaza, 31, recruiting co-defendant Charles Anthony Murphy Jr. instead.
Murphy, 31, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of Jayprakash Dhanak and his 20-year-old daughter, Karishma Dhanak, and the attempted murder of Leela Dhanak, Jayprakash’s wife.
Krasnoperov’s cell phone activity indicated he was far from the scene of the murders. But under a legal theory of aiding and abetting the killings, the 30-year-old defendant was eligible for a murder charge, the prosecutor said.
Gundy said Krasnoperov was “best friends” with Murtaza and that the two discussed how to go about the murders in an online chat about a day after Murtaza’s girlfriend, Shayona Dhanak, dumped him.
Murtaza’s plan was to “isolate” his girlfriend from everyone else and become her “BFF” so she would run back to him after her family was killed, Gundy said.
Shayona Dhanak wanted to break up with Murtaza when she started as a freshman at UC Irvine, but wasn’t sure how to go about doing it, so her mother suggested she blame the breakup on her parents since they “soured” on the relationship anyway, Gundy said.
Shayona Dhanak and Murtaza were caught in a “compromising position” in a car, which angered her parents, Gundy said.
Murtaza, who was a non-practicing Muslim, figured the breakup was due to religious differences since his girlfriend’s parents were devout Hindus, Gundy said.
Krasnoperov and Murtaza, according to transcripts of their chat, discussed hiring a hitman to kill the family, but it never came to fruition, Gundy said. The prosecutor said Krasnoperov reached out to a woman who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia, and who the defendant figured had connections to professional killers.
When Krasnoperov apparently had to bow out and the hitman plan failed, the prosecutor said, Murtaza recruited Murphy.
A third man was along for the killings, but has not been identified.
The killers ambushed the victims in their home, but didn’t finish the job against Leela Dhanak, who was found near death on a neighbor’s lawn, Gundy said. The other two victims were taken to Mason Regional Park in Irvine about 4:15 a.m. on May 22, 2007, Gundy said.
Karishma appeared to have been burned alive and her throat slashed, but Jayprakash likely died before his body was brought to the park, Gundy said.
Murtaza was arrested on May 25, 2007, at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where he was trying to catch a flight to Bangladesh, Gundy said.
After the murders, Krasnoperov met with Murtaza for about 90 minutes, Gundy said. He never mentioned that meeting with investigators, the prosecutor said.
Krasnoperov also suggested to investigators that Jayprakash Dhanak, who did time in federal prison for mail fraud, may have made enemies who targeted his family for death, Gundy said, adding it was “an effort to misdirect police away from Murtaza and himself.”
–City News Service