Orange County District Attorney Press Release
For Immediate Release, Case # 07NF2178: December 16, 2013
*Two co-defendants were convicted and one was sentenced in this case
SANTA ANA – A jury recommended the death penalty today for a man convicted of 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, was found guilty by the same 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. Murtaza is scheduled to be formally sentenced Jan. 10, 2014, at 1:30 p.m. in Department C-41, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
Charles Anthony Murphy, Jr., 29, 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 Dec. 20, 2013, at 9:00 a.m., in Department C-41, Central Justice Center.
Co-defendant Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 28, 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 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.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy is prosecuting this case.
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney 401 Civic Center Drive West Santa Ana, CA 92701