Published November 23, 2015
A Southern California man charged with killing his ex-girlfriend's father and sister, slashing her mother's throat and burning their home testified that he was high on drugs when he said in an online chat after an angry breakup that he wanted the family dead.
Iftekhar Murtaza, now 29, took the witness stand Tuesday in his murder trial. He told jurors he was upset when his then-18-year-old girlfriend Shayona Dhanak told him in March 2007 that her parents had threatened to cut her off financially and stop paying her college tuition if she didn't split with him.
Murtaza testified that he went home, took Ecstasy and started chatting online with a friend about how the couple had broken up and he wished her parents were dead. He said Dhanak said her mother, who is Hindu, had told her that his Muslim family came from a line of "beggars and servants."
In the coming days, Murtaza said he repeated his wish that the Dhanaks would die or disappear to dozens of friends out of his sense of frustration and despair.
"I didn't want to kill them. It was just a figure of speech. I was frustrated, I was upset. I just wished they would accept me. It's almost like I am not human to them, based on the family that I was born into," he said.
Murtaza is charged with killing Dhanak's father and sister and attempting to kill her mother in the fiery attack on the family's Orange County home in May 2007. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Prosecutors said Murtaza carried out the 2007 rampage in an ill-conceived plot to try to reunite with Dhanak after she blamed their split on the families' religious differences. They said in reality, she had wanted to end the relationship with Murtaza as he became more controlling and violent.
Murtaza testified that things were going well in his two-year relationship with Dhanak in the weeks before she broke up with him. The couple had recently gone together to Disneyland, he said.
Murtaza's testimony came following weeks of testimony by witnesses for the prosecution, including Shayona Dhanak and her mother Leela, who survived the attack. He was expected to return to the witness stand Wednesday.
In May 2007, authorities rushed to a fire at the Dhanaks' home in Anaheim Hills and found Leela Dhanak unconscious outside. Her husband and elder daughter were missing.
The next morning, the bodies of Jay Dhanak and 20-year-old Karishma Dhanak were found stabbed and charred in a brush fire in a park in Irvine about two miles from the University of California, Irvine dorm where Shayona Dhanak lived.
Several days after the killings, Murtaza was interviewed by police. The next day, prosecutors say he was arrested at the airport in Phoenix with a ticket to his native Bangladesh and more than $11,000 in cash.
Two of Murtaza's friends have been convicted of the killings and one of them has been sentenced to life in prison.