BUFFALO, N.Y. – Contrasting images of a former New York television executive accused of stabbing and decapitating his wife were presented on the opening day of his trial Tuesday, with prosecutors calling the attack a final act of domination and control over the woman who was divorcing him. The defense described the killing as an act of blind fury by a husband who feared for his own life.
The second-degree murder trial of Muzzammil Hassan started in Erie County Court in Buffalo. The 46-year-old is accused in the death of his estranged wife, 37-year-old Aasiya Hassan, two years ago inside the studios of Bridges TV.
"Only two people know for sure what happened" defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz said.
Hassan is the former president and chief executive of the cable network the Pakistan-born couple founded the station to counter negative images of Muslims after 9/11. Aasiya Hassan was the general manager.
Hassan admits killing his wife in February 2009, six days after she filed for divorce. But, he has pleaded not guilty based on his claims he was a battered spouse.
Assistant District Attorney Paul Bonanno said evidence and testimony from the suspect's own children, the victim's stepchildren, will show it was Aasiya Hassan who was repeatedly beaten and terrorized.
Hassan, who stands over 6 feet tall, is shown on surveillance video testing the sharpness of hunting knives at a Wal-Mart before buying two an hour before the killing, Bonanno told the jury. He's seen again at the darkened TV station where he surprised his wife from behind after luring her there to drop off clothes for him, he said.
Aasiya Hassan was stabbed more than 40 times as the couple's 4- and 6-year-old children and the suspect's teenage son from a previous marriage waited in a minivan outside for her to complete the errand on their way to dinner, Bonanno said.
"Then (Hassan) took those knives and he sawed Aasiya's head off," using so much force that the floor tiles underneath were damaged, the prosecutor said.
When he emerged from the station, Hassan handed his oldest son an envelope full of cash and then drove away, stopping first at a hotel to clean up before reporting his wife's death at the Orchard Park police station, Schwartz said.
Police found Aasiya Hassan's body in a hallway, the prosecutor said, and her head several feet away, against a wall.
"He killed Aasiya and desecrated her body because six days earlier, she had dared file for divorce, dared to seek a better life for herself and her children. The defendant could not and would not tolerate that," Bonanno said. Hassan, wearing a dark suit and glasses, maintained a businesslike demeanor, showing no emotion as he jotted notes on a legal pad at the defense table.
"I am not going to tell you that what happened was right," Schwartz said. "I am not going to tell you that this is something that should or will ever happen again.
"I am not going to tell you that what happened was somehow endorsed by a religion or culture," the defense lawyer said of his client's actions, which raised public speculation over whether it may have been an "honor killing," a slaying by a relative who believes the victim has brought shame to the family. Hassan has said it was not.
Schwartz described a rocky marriage that the twice-divorced Hassan sought to repair by seeking professional help, only to be pushed "to the breaking point" by his wife's physical and psychological attacks and calls to police.
"She would make threats to take his children away, threats to take his life," he said. The day she died, Aasiya Hassan forced her terrified husband at knifepoint to end a friendship with a woman confidante, the defense lawyer said. Hassan had bought the hunting knives for self-defense in response, he said.
In their final encounter, Hassan snapped when he saw Aasiya Hassan reach into a coat pocket that had earlier held a kitchen knife, Schwartz said, and killed her "in a blind fury of fear and rage."
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