SANTA ANA – The man accused of kidnapping and murdering his estranged girlfriend’s father and sister and setting their bodies on fire in Orange County in 2007 touched off a massive manhunt when he went missing from his Van Nuys apartment shortly after he became a suspect in the double slaying, a prosecutor contended in court documents.
Iftekhar Murtaza demonstrated a “consciousness of guilt” when he fled to Arizona in May of 2007 to avoid arrest, Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy wrote in a legal brief on a pretrial motion.
Murtaza was the primary suspect in the beating and stabbings deaths of Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, and his eldest daughter, Karishma Dhanak, 20, when he disappeared in the middle of the night four days after the smoldering bodies were found in an Irvine park, Gundy wrote.
But detectives had secretly placed a tracking device on Murtaza’s Range Rover and he was traced to the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Gundy said. Murtaza was within two hours of boarding a flight to Bangladesh when he was arrested as he walked into a men’s room at the airport, according to Gundy’s brief.
There is no extradition treaty between Bangladesh and the United States.
Murtaza, 28, has been awaiting trial since then on special circumstances murder charges that he orchestrated and participated in the May 21, 2007, kidnapping and slayings because he blamed the Dhanak family for breaking up his romance with Shayona Dhanak, 18, the Dhanaks’ youngest daughter. He faces a potential death penalty if convicted.
Defense attorney Doug Myers contended in a motion to suppress evidence that there was insufficient evidence to arrest Murtaza at the Phoenix airport.
But Gundy countered that police had the “collective knowledge” to arrest Murtaza because Anaheim detectives had developed evidence that showed he had the motive and the opportunity to commit the slayings. Gundy said detectives also knew that Murtaza’s cellphone had pinged off a tower near the Dhanaks’ Anaheim Hills home at about the same time as the kidnapping, and that he lied when he said he had no travel plans.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals ruled Monday that Murtaza’s arrest was proper and that evidence seized at the airport will be admissible at trial. It was one of several pretrial motions heard this week as attorneys gear up for Murtaza’s often-delayed trial.
Jury selection is now scheduled to begin next week; opening statements are expected by mid-October. The trial could last into December.
Murtaza’s trial has been delayed for more than six years in part because two other men were previously tried and convicted for their roles in the abduction and murders.
Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 27, was convicted of special circumstances murder in 2011 after an Orange County jury found that he helped Murtaza plot the murders. And Charles Murphy Jr., 28, was convicted in 2012 of being with Murtaza on the night of the killings.
After years of legal maneuvering, the trials of the three defendants were separated from each other. Murtaza, the only defendant facing a potential death sentence, is the last to go to trial.
By LARRY WELBORN / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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