Prosecutor: Men responsible in family's ‘slaughter'
They are charged with conspiring with their friend – Iftekhar Murtaza – to murder his ex-girlfriend’s family because of a failed romance. SANTA ANA – A prosecutor Thursday described as "slaughter" the beating and burning deaths of two members of an Anaheim Hills family in 2007 as a trial began for two men accused of conspiring to help a friend murder his ex-girlfriend's father and older sister.
Co-defendants Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 26, of Hollywood and Charles Anthony Murphy Jr., 26, of Mission Hills are charged with murder and attempted murder, plus special circumstances for their roles in the May 21, 2007, slayings of Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, and Karishma Dhanak, 20.
Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 26, waits for court to begin in Santa Ana on Thursday. He is charged with murder plus special circumstances for his role in the May 21, 2007, slayings of Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, and Karishma Dhanak, 20. He is being tried with Charles Anthony Murphy Jr., 26.
They are accused of helping their friend, Iftekhar Murtaza, 26, of Van Nuys, to murder his ex-girlfriend's family because of a failed romance.
The victims were abducted from their home, beaten and stabbed, and their bodies set on fire.
Among other evidence at the trial will be statements made by the two men, Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy told jurors in Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals' courtroom during his opening remarks.
"Both these men ... lied to protect themselves and Iftekhar Murtaza even though both knew that he was responsible for the slaughter of the" Dhanak family, Gundy said.
Krasnoperov and Murphy are being tried together after their cases were consolidated by Goethals. Murtaza is scheduled for trial on similar charges next year. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted
Gundy contends that Murtaza plotted the attack because he perceived the Dhanaks had forced their youngest daughter, Shayona, to break off their romance. And, with the parents and her older sister out of the way, he could clear the obstacles to getting back with her, Gundy said.
The prosecutor told jurors Krasnoperov started providing Murtaza the "momentum" to commit the crimes within a day of the breakup, suggesting and looking for a hit man to do the job.
Murtaza offered Murphy, a childhood friend, $30,000 to help carry out the killings, Gundy said. Among other evidence, cellphone records place Murphy in the Dhanaks' neighborhood on the night of the killing, he said.
"This case is about the intersection of these three men" and how it led to the deaths and near death of members of the Dhanak family, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorneys for Krasnoperov and Murphy elected to reserve their opening statements for when the prosecution rests its case.
Dhanak's parents, devout Hindus, disapproved of her nearly three-year relationship with Murtaza, who is Muslim, Shayona Dhanak said when she testified at Krasnoperov's first trial earlier this year. That trial ended in a hung jury.
Krasnoperov was the first of the three co-defendants to stand trial, four years after the burned bodies of Shayona Dhanak's loved ones were discovered in the early hours of May 22, 2007, near a bike trail in William R. Mason Regional Park, not far from UC Irvine.
Though he wasn't present for the killings, he is being prosecuted for murder under the legal theory that he was an "aider and abettor" for his alleged role in the planning and the cover-up, prosecutors say.
Brent Romney, Krasnoperov's attorney during his first trial, argued that his client merely tried to calm down an angry Murtaza after his breakup with Shayona Dhanak and wasn't the only person Murtaza talked with about murdering the Dhanaks.
Romney painted Internet chats between Krasnoperov and Murtaza as "banter" among friends with no agreement to kill. Krasnoperov, Romney said, was a nonviolent person and a "goofball."
Anaheim firefighters found Jayprakash's wife, Leela Dhanak, unconscious on a neighbor's lawn when they responded to a report that the Dhanak home was engulfed in flames. Leela Dhanak had been beaten and her throat slashed, but she survived the attack.
If convicted, Krasnoperov and Murphy face potential sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.