Hassan Found Guilty in Wife’s Beheading, May Get Life

Hassan Found Guilty in Wife’s Beheading, May Get Life

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A New York jury deliberated for less than an hour before finding Muzzammil Hassan guilty of beheading his wife, Aasiya, nearly two years after her body was found in the television station they jointly founded. Aasiya had filed for divorce six days earlier.

Hassan’s sentencing has been set for March 9. He faces a term of 25 years- to-life on a second degree murder conviction.

New York state statutes apply first degree murder only when the victim is a police officer, or if the defendant was involved with organized crime. A conviction of first-degree murder in the state formerly carried a possible death sentence, but New York declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 2004.

According to court testimony, Hassan killed Aasiya, 37, with two hunting knives on Feb. 13, 2009, as she came to the Bridges TV station offices in upstate New York to drop off clean clothes for Hassan, who had moved out of their home and into a hotel.

During the two-week trial, Hassan, who had fired his attorney and was representing himself, attempted to portray himself as a battered spouse and Aasiya as an abusive wife.

In divorce papers, however, Aasiya accused her husband of pushing her down a staircase three times, once when she was pregnant. A doctor’s report noted that Aasiya had broken her tailbone during the third such incident.

In a 2009 story, Orchard Park Police Department Chief Andrew Benz told India-West that there had been other domestic incidents at the Hassan home. Aasiya had obtained an order protection that prohibited Muzzammil from coming to their home, but which did not extend to their shared workplace, said Benz.

In a series of texts sent back and forth by the couple just minutes before Aasiya’s death, Hassan presented himself as apologetic and contrite. “I’m really sorry,” he wrote to Aasiya at one point.

“This is typically what happens in a cycle of abuse,” said Robbina Niaz, founder and executive director of Turning Point For Women, a domestic violence prevention organization in Flushing, New York.

“After the violence, there is typically a honeymoon stage, where the man will ask for forgiveness and buy flowers. The woman stays trapped, thinking that her man has changed and the abuse cycle continues,” Niaz told India-West.

This was a completely preventable death, asserted Niaz, adding that local law enforcement should have arrested Hassan on one of the myriad times they came out to investigate a domestic violence call at the Hassans’ home.

The law really works against women with children who are trying to escape an abusive marriage, said Niaz, noting that women must stay within the area or face charges of kidnapping their children.

Niaz encouraged women in abusive relationships to tell friends and their families. She encouraged families to let their daughters know there would always be a safe place for them at home.

Attorney Nadia Shahram, who worked with the Hassans at Bridges television on a monthly legal show, told India-West that she wished she had reached out to Aasiya.

“I wish I had known her well enough for her to confide in me,” she said, noting that the two had exchanged e-mails and spoken on the phone, but primarily about work.

After Aasiya’s death, Shahram held a seminar on domestic violence at a local mosque, which was attended by many women and men. After the talk, many women came to her privately to discuss their own abusive relationships.

“Aasiya’s murder has caused the community to wake up and proactively declare an end to domestic violence. This brutal tragedy could have been averted,” Muslim community activist and attorney Wajahat Ali told India-West.

Mosques and Islamic organizations throughout the world rallied Feb. 20, 2009 during the khutbah — a sermon traditionally delivered before Friday noon prayers — to denounce domestic abuse. A similar memorial occurred last February on the one year anniversary of Aasiya’s death, and an International Purple Hijab Day Lighted Vigil will be held this year throughout the U.S. on Feb. 12, said Ali.

“We have to tackle this epidemic head-on,” asserted Ali. “Hassan had a history of domestic abuse,” he said, quoting a friend of Aasiya, who said that her acquaintances saw the signs, and that she had tried to get out.

Aasiya was Hassan’s third wife. He is separated from his spouses in two previous marriages. The couple had two young children together, and two older children from Hassan’s previous marriages, and had jointly founded the television station in 2004.

In an earlier story, Atashi Chakravarty, former executive director of Berkeley, Calif.-based Narika, told India-West that family members need to be aware of signs that a woman is being abused. Such signs include withdrawal from family and friends, breaking away from friendships — including un-returned phone calls — and not participating in usual activities.

“People often ask why women in abusive relationships don't just up and leave their abusers,” Mukta Sharanpani, president of Maitri, a domestic violence prevention organization, told India-West. “The truth is that abused women are at very high risk of being injured or killed as they are leaving or soon after they leave,” she said.

“Domestic violence is about power and control. Injuring or killing is the abuser's final act of control, an attempt to show her that she belongs to him,” said Sharangpani.

“The gruesome beheading of Aasiya was one more tragic instance of this belief of ownership and must not be viewed under any circumstances as a crime of passion or as an act of self defense,” she said.

(Photo courtesy: Bridges TV.)