NEW YORK – A woman distraught over losing custody of her 4-year-old daughter plotted with a relative to lure her estranged husband to a playground, where he was shot to death in front of the little girl by a gunman with a makeshift silencer, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
The prosecutor made the statement at the start of the murder and conspiracy trial of Dr. Mazoltuv Borukhova and her uncle Mikhail Mallayev. Borukhova is accused of paying Mallayev nearly $20,000 to kill Dr. Daniel Malakov, who was slain outside a playground on Oct. 28, 2007.
The victim and the accused killers are all members of the close-knit community of Bukharan Jews from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan.
Borukhova's attorney, Stephen Scaring, said investigators never found strong evidence tying his client to the crime.
"There's no concrete evidence connecting Dr. Borukhova to the death of her husband," he said. "There is speculation and guesswork fueled by families making statements and cops rushing to judgment."
Michael Siff, Mallayev's defense attorney, urged jurors to keep an open mind, describing his client as a "family man" and a victim of overzealous prosecutors and police.
But in his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal called Mallayev a "a paid assassin, executioner, a hitman." He laid out the details of the alleged murder-for-hire plot, saying Borukhova was motivated by distress over losing custody rights.
The slaying rocked the close-knit community of Bukharan Jews from Uzbekistan. New York is home to the largest Bukharan population in the United States.
Relatives from both sides packed the courtroom, some reading Scripture during proceedings, others taking notes and whispering. Family members wept loudly when the victim's bloody shirt was shown to the jury, prompting a request from the judge to keep emotions in check.
According to the prosecution, Borukhova, an internist, paid her uncle to kill her orthodontist husband a week after losing custody of her daughter, Michelle.
As the child went to greet her mother, a gunman wearing a black leather jacket and a dark hat approached and shot three rounds, hitting Malakov twice.
Mallayev calmly put the weapon in his jacket and fled, Leventhal said. Police later recovered a bleach bottle covered with tape used as a silencer.
Malakov grabbed his chest and stumbled to the ground "feet away from his little girl, who watched him die," Leventhal said.
The prosecutor said Borukhova and Malakov had been married briefly and had been going through an acrimonious divorce. Borukhova lost custody of the girl for blocking visits between the child and her father.
Upset about the ruling, Borukhova called Mallayev at his Atlanta home and hatched a plot for him to shoot Malakov, the prosecutor said. Leventhal said Mallayev and Borukhova exchanged 91 phone calls, 68 of them in the week before the shooting.
Scaring said the frequent contact was because Borukhova was Mallayev's doctor.
By hiring Mallayev as an assassin, Leventhal said, Borukhova accomplished what she couldn't accomplish with attorneys -- "to permanently and forever deprive Daniel of ever developing a relationship with his little girl."
A schoolteacher walking her dog near the park who saw the shooting from about 30 feet away was expected to testify. She gave an initial description of the shooter, and later picked out Mallayev in a lineup, Leventhal said.
Leventhal also said fingerprints were lifted from the makeshift silencer, and a bullet was recovered at the scene.
After the shooting, Mallayev drove back to his home in Atlanta, eventually returning to New York to deposit money before he was arrested months later, Leventhal said.