Orange County District Attorney Press Release
For Immediate Release, Case # 07NF2178: October 15, 2013
*Two co-defendants were convicted and one was sentenced in this case
SANTA ANA – A man faces trial tomorrow for murdering his ex-girlfriend’s father and sister and attempting to kill her mother. The two murdered victims were set on fire and a third was left in a coma after suffering life-threatening injuries. Iftekhar Murtaza, 29, Van Nuys, is charged with two felony counts of special circumstances murder, one felony count of attempted murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder. He faces sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during the commission of a burglary, murder during the commission of kidnapping, and murder for financial gain. The Orange County District Attorney is seeking the death penalty against Murtaza. Opening statements are expected to begin tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-41, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
Charles Anthony Murphy, Jr., 28, 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 faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole at his sentencing Oct. 25, 2013, at 8:30 a.m., in Department C-41, Central Justice Center.
Co-defendant Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 27, Hollywood, was found guilty by a jury 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. This was the second jury trial against Krasnoperov, as a previous jury was unable to reach a verdict on May 10, 2011. He was sentenced Nov. 9, 2012, to life in state prison without the possibility of parole.
In March 2007, 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, 18-year-old 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 is accused of becoming 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 is accused of contacting his friend, Krasnoperov, online and telling him in an AOL Instant Messenger (IM) conversation that he wanted to kill Jaypraykash and Leela Dhanak. Murtaza is accused of having 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 is accused of having another online IM conversation with Krasnoperov to discuss an upcoming meeting, arranged by Krasnoperov. They are accused of planning this 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 is accused of contacting and exchanging a series of text messages with his childhood friend, Murphy, and offering him $30,000 “for a job.” Murtaza is accused of telling 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 are accused of brutally murdering Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak and attempting 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 are accused of entering the Dhanaks’ home and forcibly restraining Jaypraykash Dhanak. They are accused of beating him, stabbing him repeatedly, and putting him in a bathroom while waiting 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 are accused of forcibly detaining her. At approximately 10:45 p.m., Leela Dhanak arrived home from work. The defendants are accused of immediately attacking her and stabbing her in the stomach. They are accused of then dousing the home is gasoline, lighting the house on fire, and attempting to move the three victims to a van outside.
Once outside of the home, the defendants are accused of continuing 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 are accused of taking Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak to a bike trail at Mason Regional Park in Irvine. They are accused of murdering the victims and setting their bodies on fire with gasoline. The defendants are accused of then fleeing the scene. Officers responding to calls 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 is accused of fleeing from Orange County to Phoenix, AZ. On May 25, 2007, he is accused of attempting to flee to Bangladesh from Arizona with a one-way plane ticket and $11,000 in cash. He was arrested 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.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy is prosecuting this case.
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney 401 Civic Center Drive West Santa Ana, CA 92701
Susan Kang Schroeder Chief of Staff Office: 714-347-8408 Cell: 714-292-2718 Farrah Emami Spokesperson Office: 714-347-8405 Cell: 714-323-4486