Los Angeles

Man Finally Sentenced for Hiring Assassin to Kill 17-Year-Old Wife Decades Ago

After hiring the hitman and staging the murder, the husband fled to Antigua.

A man convicted of hiring an assassin to stage a robbery and kill his 17-year-old wife in a La Mirada park -- a crime that went unsolved for nearly two decades -- was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Morrad Ghonim, 43, was convicted Nov. 21 of the murder of Victoria Ghonim, who was shot on July 23, 1992, while sitting in a car with Morrad and her infant son in La Mirada Creek Park.

Jurors -- who deliberated over 4 1/2 days before reaching a verdict -- also found true the special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and murder for financial gain, as well as a gun allegation.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio denied a motion for new trial before ordering Ghonim to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Prosecutors earlier decided against seeking the death penalty.

The killing remained unsolved until 2009, when DNA linked a man named Leon Martinez to the crime. Martinez was arrested in October 2010 and convicted in March 2015 of first-degree murder.

The hitman later struck a deal with prosecutors and testified against Ghonim during a preliminary hearing. Martinez gave various accounts to police and in court as to what Ghonim paid him, at one point saying Ghonim offered him $10,000 and actually paid $5,000.

In other testimony, Martinez said he was paid only $500. The lower number was supported by testimony from Ghonim's second wife and the mother of five of his children.

The woman Ghonim married after killing his young wife testified that during a fight when she threatened to take the children and move to Texas, Ghonim told her, "If you ever think of getting a divorce, I'll hurt you. It cost me $500 then, it won't cost me much now,'' the Los Angeles Times reported.

Martinez is expected to be sentenced on Feb. 23 to 28 years to life in prison in exchange for his testimony.

Ghonim was charged in his wife's killing about a month after Martinez was convicted. At the time, Ghonim was living in Antigua. He was arrested in May 2015 and returned to the United States.

Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Howard Cooper testified that according to Ghonim, he was with his wife and infant son at the La Mirada park, standing near a foot bridge, when they heard catcalls coming from a group of people standing nearby.

Ghonim told the investigator that his wife began shouting back at the group, then the family hustled back to their car, where his wife continued to shout at the group, Cooper said. Ghonim said that as he was about to turn on the vehicle's engine, he heard gunshots, and he quickly started the car and sped away, realizing then that his wife had been shot.

Cooper said Ghonim claimed he never saw the actual shooter, but sped away trying to find a hospital. He was soon pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer for running a red light, according to Cooper.

The CHP officer said Ghonim was sobbing, and the officer saw the woman in the vehicle suffering from a gunshot wound.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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