A Hollywood man was convicted Tuesday of conspiring to help kill the father and sister of a buddy's ex-girlfriend in Anaheim Hills, but jurors deadlocked on whether he should also be held liable for the actual murders.
Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 30, was previously found guilty of the 2007 killings and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but his conviction was overturned on appeal.
In his third trial, jurors deadlocked 11-1 for guilt on the charges related to the actual killings after several days of deliberations, prompting Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to declare a mistrial on those counts.
Krasnoperov was ordered to return to court June 3 for a hearing on the deadlocked counts and possible sentencing. If prosecutors decide against going forward with a fourth trial, or the judge dismisses the remaining counts outright, Krasnoperov would face 25 years to life behind bars.
Krasnoperov, who has been in custody since 2007, would be eligible for a parole hearing in about 16 years, Senior Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy said.
Defense attorney Michael Garey argued that his client shouldn't be held accountable for the conspiracy because the main defendant, Iftekhar Murtaza, who has been sentenced to death, engaged in a new conspiracy when Krasnoperov broke his right wrist in a motorcycle accident a little more than a week before the killings and, by all accounts, was not involved in the murders.
"He didn't participate in the murders and he didn't agree to be in a conspiracy," Garey told reporters after the latest verdict was announced. "And he never had any intent to see anyone killed."
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Gundy argued that it didn't matter if Krasnoperov directly participated in the murders because the law still holds him accountable for helping to plan them and then obstructing justice after the fact.
Gundy also argued there was no second conspiracy, just an ongoing conspiracy that involved Murtaza, 31, recruiting co-defendant Charles Anthony Murphy Jr. instead.
Murphy, 31, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of Jayprakash Dhanak and his 20-year-old daughter, Karishma Dhanak, and the attempted murder of Leela Dhanak, Jayprakash's wife.
Krasnoperov's cellphone activity indicated he was far from the scene of the murders. But under a legal theory of aiding and abetting the killings, the 30-year-old defendant can be found guilty of murder, the prosecutor said.
Gundy said Krasnoperov was "best friends" with Murtaza and that the two discussed how to go about the murders in an online chat about a day after Murtaza's girlfriend, Shayona Dhanak, dumped him.
Murtaza's plan was to "isolate" his girlfriend from everyone else and become her "BFF" so she would run back to him after her family was killed, Gundy said.
Shayona Dhanak wanted to break up with Murtaza when she started as a freshman at UC Irvine, but wasn't sure how to go about doing it, so her mother suggested she blame the breakup on her parents since they "soured" on the relationship anyway, Gundy said.
Shayona Dhanak and Murtaza were caught in a "compromising position" in a car, which angered her parents, Gundy said.
Murtaza, who was a nonpracticing Muslim, figured the breakup was due to religious differences since his girlfriend's parents were devout Hindus, Gundy said.
Krasnoperov and Murtaza, according to transcripts of their chat, discussed hiring a hitman to kill the family, but it never came to fruition, Gundy said. The prosecutor said Krasnoperov reached out to a woman who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia, and who the defendant figured had connections to professional killers.
When Krasnoperov apparently had to bow out and the hitmen plan failed, the prosecutor said, Murtaza recruited Murphy.
A third man was along for the killings, but has not been identified.
The killers ambushed the victims in their home, but didn't finish the job against Leela Dhanak, who was found near death on a neighbor's lawn, Gundy said. The other two victims were taken to Mason Regional Park in Irvine about 4:15 a.m. on May 22, 2007, Gundy said.
Karishma appeared to have been burned alive and her throat slashed, but Jayprakash likely died before his body was brought to the park, Gundy said.
Murtaza was arrested on May 25, 2007, at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where he was trying to catch a flight to Bangladesh, Gundy said.
After the murders, Krasnoperov met with Murtaza for about 90 minutes, Gundy said. He never mentioned that meeting with investigators, the prosecutor said.
Krasnoperov also suggested to investigators that Jayprakash Dhanak, who did time in federal prison for mail fraud, may have made enemies who targeted his family for death, Gundy said, adding it was "an effort to misdirect police away from Murtaza and himself."