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Defendant in double-murder case erupts during trial

As a witness in court describes a brutal attack on her family, the man accused of the crimes is warned to 'behave' himself.

November 08, 2013|By Adolfo Flores

As a woman on the witness stand described how she was attacked in a violent rampage that left her husband and daughter dead, the man accused of the crimes erupted in anger in an Orange County courtroom Thursday.

"That's not what happened," Iftekhar Murtaza said, loudly enough to interrupt Leela Dhanak's testimony in the 2007 double-murder case.

Murtaza, 29, is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend's father, Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, and sister, Karishma Dhanak, 20, and attempting to kill Dhanak before setting fire to their Anaheim Hills mansion in 2007.

Dhanak, the ex-girlfriend's mother, was found critically wounded on a neighbor's lawn and was in a coma for weeks. The gasoline-drenched bodies of her husband and daughter were later found smoldering in a secluded spot near UC Irvine.

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The outburst prompted three bailiffs to surround Murtaza and drew an admonishment from the judge.

Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals told the defendant to "behave" himself and threatened to have him removed from the court if it happened again.

Prosecutors maintain that Murtaza was motivated to kill after his girlfriend, Shayona Dhanak, broke up with him, saying her Hindu family disapproved of him because he was Muslim. Shayona Dhanak testified earlier in the trial that the cultural differences were just an excuse to break off the relationship.

Authorities said that after she ended the relationship, Murtaza became enraged and enlisted friends to help kill her family, believing that by eliminating them, she would see him as a "white knight" and reunite with him. Authorities said he initially tried to hire professional hit men.

On Thursday, the mother identified Murtaza as one of two attackers she encountered inside her home.

"He had a knife in his hand and had it across my throat like that," Dhanak testified, moving her hand from left to right across her scarred neck.

"He stabbed me on my tummy, on my stomach," she said.

"And then what else did he do?" asked Deputy Dist. Atty. Howard Gundy.

"He hit me on the head and I fell down," she said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. "After that I don't remember anything."

During a break, the judge told Murtaza that while he could understand that Dhanak's testimony was upsetting to him, he had to restrain himself.

"The jury saw and heard what happened; I have no idea what their impression of that was," Goethals said.

"It won't happen again," Murtaza said. "Promise."

His attorneys declined to comment on the outburst.

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