Case # 07NF2178
Date: March 3, 2015
MAN SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR MURDERING EX-GIRLFRIEND’S FATHER AND SISTER BEFORE SETTING THEIR BODIES AND HOME ON FIRE
AND ATTEMPTING TO KILL HER MOTHER
*One co-defendant was sentenced and another co-defendant is awaiting re-trial in this case
SANTA ANA – A man was sentenced today to receive the death penalty for murdering his ex-girlfriend’s father and sister and attempting to kill her mother. The two murdered victims were set on fire and the third victim was left in a coma after suffering life-threatening injuries. Iftekhar Murtaza, 30, Van Nuys, was found guilty by a jury Nov. 22, 2013, of two felony counts of murder, one felony count of attempted murder, one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder, the special circumstance sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, and murder during the commission of kidnapping were found true. The same jury recommended the death penalty for Murtaza on Dec. 16, 2013.
Co-defendant Charles Anthony Murphy Jr., 30, Mission Hills, was found guilty by a jury Dec. 12, 2012, of two felony counts of special circumstances murder, one felony count of attempted murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder. The sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during the commission of kidnapping, and murder for financial gain were found true. Murphy was convicted in his third re-trial, as a previous jury was unable to reach a verdict and the second re-trial was declared a mistrial. He was sentenced to life in state prison without the possibility of parole on Jan. 17, 2014.
Co-defendant Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 29, Hollywood, was found guilty by a jury in a re-trial of his case on Dec. 15, 2011, of two felony counts of special circumstances murder, one felony count of attempted murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder. The sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during the commission of a burglary, and murder during the commission of kidnapping were found true. On Jan. 15, 2015, the California Court of Appeals, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, overturned the conviction based on a violation regarding the defendant’s due process rights. Krasnoperov is now awaiting a new trial date in the third re-trial of his case.
Murtaza and Murphy were convicted and sentenced for and Krasnoperov is accused of committing the following crimes:
In March 2007, then 18-year-old Shayona Dhanak was a freshman at the University of California, Irvine, living in the campus dorms. Her father Jaypraykash Dhanak, 56, mother Leela Dhanak, 54, and sister Karishma Dhanak, 20, lived in the family home in Anaheim Hills.
On March 29, 2007, Shayona Dhanak ended a two-year dating relationship with Murtaza. The Dhanaks disapproved of the relationship partly because they were practicing Hindus and Murtaza was a non-practicing Muslim. Murtaza became angry about the break-up, believing that Shayona Dhanak’s parents were responsible because they did not approve of the relationship and had pressured her to end the relationship.
Circumstances of the Conspiracy
After the break-up, Murtaza contacted his friend, Krasnoperov, online and told him in an AOL Instant Messenger (IM) conversation that he wanted to kill Jaypraykash and Leela Dhanak. Murtaza had an IM discussion with Krasnoperov about ways to murder the victims, including burning their house down or using a hit man. Krasnoperov offered to contact someone whom he knew “used to do this type of work.”
On April 26, 2007, Murtaza had another online IM conversation with Krasnoperov to discuss an upcoming meeting, arranged by Krasnoperov. They planned the meeting with the intention of negotiating the murders of the Dhanak family. Krasnoperov instructed Murtaza to obtain a picture of the victims by sending Shayona Dhanak an IM asking for a photograph from her recent family trip to India.
At approximately 1:30 p.m. on May 21, 2007, Murtaza contacted and exchanged a series of text messages with his childhood friend, Murphy, and offered him $30,000 “for a job.” Murtaza told Murphy that they should meet in person to discuss the details. Murphy agreed to meet with Murtaza that day and participate in the murders of the Dhanaks that night.
Circumstances of the Murder
On May 21, 2007, the same day Murtaza met with Murphy, the defendants brutally murdered Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak and attempted to murder Leela Dhanak.
Sometime after 6:30 p.m., Jaypraykash Dhanak, who worked with his wife in Irvine, was in his house alone after leaving work and agreeing to meet Leela Dhanak at home later. The defendants entered the Dhanaks’ home and forcibly restrained Jaypraykash Dhanak. They beat him, stabbed him repeatedly, and put him in a bathroom while they waited for his wife and daughter to arrive home.
At approximately 10:30 p.m., Karishma Dhanak was dropped off at home by a friend. The defendants forcibly detained her. At approximately 10:45 p.m., Leela Dhanak arrived home from work. The defendants immediately attacked her and stabbed her in the stomach. They then doused the home in gasoline, lit the house on fire, and attempted to move the three victims to a van outside.
Once outside of the home, the defendants continued to beat Jaypraykash Dhanak, who was severely injured and not defending himself. A witness in a nearby park observed the fire and began to run toward the house. As the witness approached, the defendants are accused of putting Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak in the back of a van and fleeing the scene. The witness flagged down a nearby police officer in a marked patrol car. The officer was the first to arrive at the scene and discovered Leela Dhanak lying unconscious on her neighbor’s lawn. The victims’ home was engulfed in flames and was largely destroyed by the fire.
Leela Dhanak was transported to the hospital with severe life threatening injuries. The victim suffered stab wounds to her stomach, blunt force injuries to the head, and third degree burns to her arm. She spent approximately three weeks in a coma and over one month in the hospital.
Shortly after 4:00 a.m. on May 22, 2007, five hours after fleeing the Dhanaks’ Anaheim Hills home, the defendants took Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak to a bike trail at Mason Regional Park in Irvine. They murdered the victims and set their bodies on fire with gasoline. The defendants then fled from the scene. Officers responding to calls from people reporting the early-morning fires discovered the bodies.
Officers from the Anaheim Police Department began investigating the case and identified Murtaza as a suspect. Murtaza fled from Orange County to Phoenix, Ariz. On May 25, 2007, he attempted to flee to Bangladesh from Arizona with a one-way plane ticket and $11,000 in cash. He was arrested for attempting to board a flight to Bangladesh and was later extradited back to Orange County on June 13, 2007. Subsequent investigation led to the arrest of Krasnoperov on June 22, 2007, and Murphy on Aug. 17, 2007.
At the sentencing today, an impact statement written by Leela Dhanak was submitted to the court and read aloud by the prosecutor. The letter described the loss of her husband which said in part, “My husband, Jay Prakash was my soul mate and companion. The manner in which his life was torn away from me leaves me with a haunting sadness for his presence. He was a good natured soul with malice towards no one. The richness and uniqueness of our relationship can never be replaced. I miss his playful sense of humor and moral support. I now lack his strong shoulder of financial support and find myself in a weakened financial position. I cannot comprehend the depravity of spirit that drove this individual to inflict such suffering and pain on Jay, as with my daughter in the last moments of their lives.”
She also wrote about the loss of her daughter which said in part, “Karishma was my beloved daughter, companion, and friend. Her personality always filled our home with energy and a fun-loving spirit. Hers was the cruelest of departures from all those who loved her. She personally comforted me when Jay was not around and most of all I miss her hugs which she would give me when I was down. I can still hear her laughter. Her affection never ceased. I miss her every minute of my life and I feel that I have lost a part of my body. Her loss is inestimable and cannot be comprehended if one is not a mother. Our lives are intertwined beyond the grave and her memory lives on in the recesses of my heart.”
Assistant Head of Court Howard Gundy of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.