BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A judge on Wednesday gave a former television executive the harshest punishment he could for beheading his estranged wife: 25 years to life in prison and a withering assessment of his character.
Muzzammil Hassan, who'd claimed his wife abused him, stood with his head bowed as the judge told him that even his own children had nothing but contempt for him. He scoffed at the idea that Hassan stabbed Aasiya Hassan more than 40 times and decapitated her because he was afraid of her.
"You bought two hunting knives, you tested them for sharpness, you laid in wait in a darkened hallway for your unsuspecting wife and you butchered her," Judge Thomas Franczyk said. "Self-defense? I don't think so."
Hassan, who killed his wife inside the offices of the Muslim-oriented television station the Pakistan-born couple started to dispel negative cultural stereotypes, kept his comments brief, in stark contrast to his trial testimony. Acting as his own attorney, Hassan, 46, spent four days on the stand, painting himself as a victim in an eight-year marriage filled with arguments and threats.
He said God sent him the courage to kill his wife and that he felt as if he'd escaped from a terrorist camp afterward.
Prosecutors countered with piles of medical and police reports showing it was Aasiya Hassan who was incessantly verbally and physically abused. The 37-year-old mother had filed for divorce a week before her death.
"I deeply regret that things came down to what they came down to," Hassan said at his sentencing in Erie County Court. "I truly wish there would have been some alternative mechanism."
The judge said: "I'm sure there are more men than we can imagine who are victims of domestic violence and you have done them no favors. If ever there was a message lost on the messenger, this was the case."
Hassan's legal adviser, Jeremy Schwartz, said Hassan sincerely believes what he said at his trial.
After three weeks of testimony, a jury spent just one hour deliberating before finding Hassan guilty on Feb. 7 of second-degree murder. Several jurors returned for the sentencing.
"To see such brutality, what she went through, will be with us forever," juror Kelly Maccagnano said outside the courtroom.
She and others said they'd kept an open mind when the burly Hassan claimed he was battered by his much smaller wife, and they waited for proof that never came.
"All he wanted to do was trash her, which was really sick," juror Linda Janiga said.
At the sentencing, prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable cited letters from the victim's family and friends "which speak to her kindness, her generosity and her optimism." Prosecutors asked for the maximum prison term.
"He got what he deserved. We hope he dies in prison," Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita said afterward.
Sedita said members of the Muslim community asked him to stress that the killing was strictly a case of domestic violence and not an "honor killing" as some people speculated after the February 2009 murder. The practice is still accepted among some fanatical Muslim men, including Pakistan, who feel betrayed by their wives.
"This case has nothing to do with religion," Sedita said.
But there was no denying the irony in the case that involved a couple who made it their life's work to improve the image of Muslims in a post-Sept. 11 world and the worst possible stereotypes their television station was meant to counter.
Bridges TV continues to broadcast, now under new management and with a broadened focus on bridging understanding among many cultures and religions.
Just before his sentencing, Hassan brought in a new lawyer who indicated he would appeal. Earl Key is the fifth attorney to be hired by Hassan since he turned himself in to police about an hour after killing his wife. He fired three others and demoted the fourth to an advisory role during the trial. Key's request to postpone the sentencing so that he could familiarize himself with the case was denied.
The judge granted prosecutors' request that Hassan be barred from contacting his two oldest children from one of two previous marriages. Twenty-year-old Sonia Hassan and her 19-year-old brother, Michael, testified against their father on their stepmother's behalf. Hassan also has two younger children with Aasiya Hassan, who were 4 and 6 years old at the time of their mother's death. They are living with their maternal grandparents in Pakistan.