Calif. man convicted in fatal family attack

SANTA ANA, Calif. - 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 a fiery attack that prosecutors say was an ill-conceived attempt to reunite the couple.

A jury found Iftekhar Murtaza, 29, guilty of two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of conspiracy. The 12 jurors, who began deliberations a day earlier, found that there were special circumstances of multiple murders, and murder during a kidnapping in the case of one victim.

The panel decided special circumstance allegations of murder during a kidnapping for another victim, and murder during a burglary, were not true.

Murtaza shook his head as the jurors left the room after the verdicts were read.

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 trial's penalty phase, which is set to begin Dec. 2. He declined to comment further on the verdicts.

Defense attorney Doug Myers declined to comment.

Authorities say Murtaza killed the relatives of Shayona Dhanak, who was a college freshman in 2007, after she blamed her decision to end the couple's two-year relationship on her devout Hindu family's opposition to her dating a Muslim.

The family's home in Anaheim Hills was torched, and Dhanak's mother, Leela, was stabbed and left unconscious on a neighbor's lawn. The charred, stabbed bodies of Dhanak's father, Jay, and 20-year-old sister Karishma were found in a park the next day.

Two of Murtaza's friends were previously convicted of the killings. Vitaliy Krasnoperov was sentenced to life in prison, and Charles Murphy Jr. is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

Prosecutors say an obsessed Murtaza wanted to kill the family to eliminate them as an obstacle to the relationship and drive Shayona Dhanak back to his arms. In an online chat with Krasnoperov, Murtaza first planned to hire a hit man but carried out the killings himself with Murphy's help when Dhanak told him she planned to go out on a date with someone else, Gundy said during the trial.

Authorities were dispatched to the inferno at the family's home in May 2007. Dhanak's father and sister were missing until the next morning, when their bodies were found burning in a park 2 miles from her dorm room at University of California, Irvine.

Murtaza was interviewed by police several days later and then 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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