SANTA ANA (AP) — A Southern California man was convicted Friday of the murders of the father and sister of his ex-girlfriend, and the attempted murder of her mother, in what prosecutors say was an ill-conceived attempt to reunite the couple.
A jury on Friday found Iftekhar Murtaza, 29, guilty of two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of conspiracy. The jury found that there were special circumstances of kidnapping during murder and multiple murders.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
“We’re very pleased with the verdicts,” said prosecutor Howard Gundy, adding he was ready to move on to the penalty phase, which is set to begin Dec. 2. He declined to comment further on the verdicts.
Authorities say Murtaza killed the relatives of Shayona Dhanak, who was a college freshman in 2007, after she blamed the couple’s breakup on her Hindu family’s opposition to her dating a Muslim.
The family’s home was torched and Dhanak’s mother left for dead. The bodies of Dhanak’s father and sister were found in a park the next day.
Two of Murtaza’s friends were convicted in the killings, and one of them was sentenced to life in prison.
Prosecutors say Murtaza plotted to murder the Dhanaks in an online chat with his best friend after the couple broke up in March 2007 because he hoped she would reunite with him once the relatives were no longer in the picture.
At first, Gundy said, Murtaza wanted to hire a hit man, but he carried out the killings himself with help from another friend when Dhanak told him she planned to go on a date with someone else.
In May 2007, authorities found the family’s Anaheim Hills home on fire and Dhanak’s mother, Leela, stabbed and left for dead outside. Her father, Jay, and 20-year-old sister Karishma were missing until the next morning when their bodies were found burning in a park 2 miles from Dhanak’s dorm room at University of California, Irvine.
Murtaza was interviewed by police several days later and arrested at a Phoenix airport with a ticket to his native Bangladesh and more than $11,000 in cash.
During the trial, Murtaza testified that he told many people he wanted to kill the Dhanaks because he was distraught over the breakup, but he said he didn’t mean it literally.
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