Tag Archives: Cross-examination

Mo Outsmarted

4 Feb

Muzzammil Hassan is raising a psychiatric self-defense justification, claiming that he stabbed his wife 40+ times and then cut off & kicked her head because she called him names and argued with him. In order to succeed on such a “battered spouse” justification defense, Hassan has to introduce expert psychiatric testimony to establish that, in fact, he was a battered spouse, and that he murdered his abuser out of self-preservation.

But no one wanted to testify for him.

So, Hassan took a massive gamble and called two doctors to the stand yesterday, Dr. Thomas Dilamarter and Dr. Gary Horwitz.  The former was Aasiya Zubair’s and Mo’s primary care physician, and the latter was the prosecution’s psychiatric expert.  Rounding out the day’s testimony was a former Bridges TV secretary.  Each one of these witnesses did tremendous harm to Hassan’s defense.

Hassan’s aim in calling Dilamarter was to try and establish that the only evidence in the medical record of physical abuse against Aasiya was “her word”.  Hassan has a big issue with never having gotten a chance to tell his side of the story.

The problem for Hassan is that there is a doctor-patient privilege, and the only person in whom Aasiya could confide without Hassan finding out were medical or legal professionals.  The further problem came during this exchange:

Dilamarter asked to review medical progress not from a case in which he personally examined Aasiya for injuries related to domestic abuse. Hassan asks Dilamarter if he ever tried to get Hassan’s side of the story. Dilamarter responds that he saw Hassan the next day.

“You admitted to me that you hurt her,” he says.

“I did not,” Hassan angrily replies.

Dilamarter says Hassan directly admitted to him that he struck his wife and was ashamed of his behavior.

By 2007, Dilamarter was counseling Aasiya to get out of her “hostile environment”.  Hassan tried to start in with his psychobabble and asked whether Aasiya could have sought counseling, to which Dr. Dilamarter replied,

I think she’d had enough of counseling…I think she’d been beaten up enough and counseling wasn’t doing any good.

He also testified that Aasiya had presented before 2006 with injuries that were consistent with domestic violence, but which she attributed to falls.  Yet Aasiya had no neurological issue that would have caused frequent falls. By contrast, Muzzammil Hassan never presented with any traumatic physical injuries that might have been attributable to domestic violence.

Ouch.  And that’s Hassan’s own witness.

He then called Kristina Telesco, a former Bridges secretary.  When he said “hi” to her, she refused to answer him.  Twice. This defense witness testified that Aasiya was very “outgoing, friendly, and quiet”, but that Hassan was “controlling and demanding”.  So much so that Aasiya’s behavior would change when he was around.

So, Hassan was 0:2 with his witnesses yesterday.  The effect was so bad that the judge asked Hassan whether he was sure he wanted to keep going down this road.

Of course he did!  So, he called the prosecution’s expert psychiatrist, Dr. Horwitz.

Horwitz was on the stand for an inordinately long period of time, and the way in which he obliterated Hassan was largely ironic.  You see, Hassan started asking questions of the doctor to find out what the general personality traits are of abusers.  Horwitz would answer, and Hassan would feel confident that he had ticked off another box showing that Aasiya was the aggressor in their relationship.  But in fact all of Horwitz’s testimony was referring to Hassan as the controlling abuser.  Hassan didn’t even seem to realize what was going on.

Horwitz said that the abuser is controlling, that he would use put-downs, insults, be hyper-critical, keep the abused away from family, that the abuser would be a master manipulator, a great liar.  The victim often believes the abuser will reform, and stays in the relationship for a variety of reasons.  To the outside world, the abuser could seem quite charming, but in private be quite evil.

There was some confusion during the testimony, as Hassan was talking about the victim, and Horwitz was talking about the abuser.  Horwitz testified that the victim is in greatest physical danger when she finally tries to end the relationship.  In cases where the abuser lashes out and murders the victim, the result is overkill – stabbing 40+ times when two would have gotten the job done. The abuser will then typically turn himself in.

Every word of Horwitz’s testimony sank Hassan’s case deeper and deeper, and the irony was not lost on anyone in the courtroom.  In fact, it was chilling to watch the doctor spell out Hassan’s own personality in such minute detail at Hassan’s own urging.

The trial resumes today at 12:15, and the jury should have the case by Monday.

(Information via the #Hassan Twitter search, the Buffalo News liveblog, and the WIVB liveblog.

Hey, Mo! Where You Goin’ With Those Knives in Your Hands?

3 Feb

Muzzammil Hassan spent 3 1/2 days on the witness stand, giving a long, rambling “direct” examination in a narrative manner.

Assistant District Attorney Colleen Curtin Gable began her cross-examination by pointing out that only a miniscule couple of seconds of his testimony were devoted to the actual murder of his wife.

Prosecutor Collen Curtin Gable opened her cross examination of Hassan by noting that in three-and-a-half days of testimony, Hassan spent about “two seconds” on the actual murder.

“Let’s start with Feb. 12, 2009,” Curtin Gable then asked. “You killed your wife, correct?”

“Yes,” Hassan responded.

Prosecutor Collen Curtin Gable opened her cross examination of Hassan by noting that in three-and-a-half days of testimony, Hassan spent about “two seconds” on the actual murder…

…You described killing your wife in just two words, ‘things happened,’ correct?…

…I want to focus on the attack because that’s what you didn’t do yesterday…

Hassan’s story is that he blacked out during the actual attack – that he has no recollection of it because he felt as if he had stepped out of his body and was watching himself commit the crime. Curtin Gable got Hassan to admit he thought Aasiya Zubair was a threat to him, then asked, “was she still a threat after the 20th stab wound?” Hassan had two brand-new knives in his pockets as he waited for his wife in the darkened Bridges studio. He attacked her within 5 seconds of her entering the building. He was asked whether he kicked his wife’s head after he severed it from her body, and replied that he thought it had just slid from the blood, but acknowledged he caused it to move because he was defending himself. “You had to defend yourself when you were cutting off her head?”

Hassan took off a bloody shirt and left the knives. Curtin Gable asked him whether it was because he didn’t want to be caught – he said he left one of two shirts because it was a cold day that day, but he got “hot” after committing his crime.

He got in his car, and thought over giving his kids that $5,000 he had withdrawn earlier that day. He was reluctant because of an order of protection against him contacting them. Curtin Gable was incredulous, “OK, you just killed your wife, and you want the jury to believe you’re worried at that time about a protection order?” and, “you just happened to have $4900 on you after the murder?”

Turning to the divorce, Hassan said he never read the papers carefully and that he had gone to the bank that day to move $90,000 from an M&T account to a different bank ostensibly to protect his kids’ college fund. He was expressly forbidden by the divorce papers to do that. Hassan argued that he didn’t take the divorce seriously, that he just thought Aasiya was playing games. The following day, Hassan again tried to text his kids, then drove to the house, and finding it locked, he broke a window. Hassan continued texting his wife and kids, trying to get them to talk with him, and Aasiya basically responded that there was nothing left to talk about. He thought he could talk his way out of the divorce – that he could talk his way out of being exposed as an abusive husband.

Turning to the meeting on the day of the murder in the conference room at Bridges, Hassan had claimed on direct that Aasiya pulled a knife on him. Yet he didn’t scream out, he didn’t leave the room. When Aasiya left, he didn’t “drive around” – he drove directly to Wal*Mart in Hamburg, passing the Orchard Park Police Department on the way, and bought two large hunting knives. He acknowledged not complaining to the police because he thought they wouldn’t listen to him. Curtin Gable then recounted several incidents involving the police that had happened previously, and got Hassan to admit that he could have given the police his side of the story, but didn’t. He said they wouldn’t listen. She brought out several times that they did listen. He also admitted that Aasiya sent Hassan a friendly text message just moments after she supposedly pulled a knife on him.

He then returned to Bridges after buying the knives. He said he got one for protection, and the other? He was going to gift-wrap it for a friend at the office. Yet he used both knives in the attack.

Curtin Gable then got Hassan to admit that as he was texting his wife just moments before the attack, he never told her he was in the Bridges studio – where he knew she was headed. He left the lights off because he didn’t want her to come in – yet the text messages reveal she told him she was going to come inside to drop clothes off. After murdering Aasiya, Hassan texted someone, asking them to call his father, “urgent”.

Curtin Gable asked, “after Wal*Mart, you went to the one place you knew your wife would be, armed with two knives?” Hassan is huge compared to Aasiya, and Curtin Gable got him to admit that if he felt threatened, he could have just pushed his wife. From the attack, Hassan didn’t have a scratch on him.

After the lunch break, Curtin Gable asked Hassan specific questions about a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the couple, one section of which was about “Mo’s Basic Needs”. The document spelled out 13 behaviors Aasiya was not to engage in. Hassan’s only obligation under the contract was to determine when Aasiya had violated it. None of the enumerated, specific behaviors involved physical acts Aasiya should stop committing; instead, it was all about her basically not being bitchy to him when they argued. Seriously.

Curtin Gable then spelled out all of the times that Aasiya went to the police to complain about Hassan’s physical mistreatment of her, many of which took place while he was out of the country so he couldn’t talk her out of it. Photos of a beaten Aasiya from 2006 were introduced into evidence, showing a black eye and bruising on her arm and calf. There is not one shred of corroborating evidence to establish that Aasiya was ever physical with Hassan, yet plenty vice-versa.

He was cross-examined on two letters that Hassan wrote & sent, ostensibly on behalf of his mother, who doesn’t speak English. One was to Sandra Tan of the Buffalo News, and the other was to Tom Bauerle. He admitted sending them both, and admitted that he never wrote in the letters that it was in his handwriting, dictated by his mother. Both letters accused Aasiya of being abusive to Hassan. Yet the letter to Tom Bauerle was never addressed to him. Instead, it was sent to his mother in Texas. Upon receiving it, they were shocked, and turned it over to the DA.

Curtin Gable got Hassan to admit that he readily called people names and demeaned them when he was angry. I didn’t feel that this line of questioning was particularly effective, but she got Hassan to admit he called ADA Gable a “retard”, his dead wife a “Darth Vader” and an “evil dragon”, that the judge ran a “kangaroo court”, and DA Sedita was “Dumbo”. He later explained it away on re-direct, explaining he felt he was being treated unfairly, and that the male-as-abuser “paradigm” was taking hold in the case.

As she concluded, Curtin Gable got Hassan to admit that he felt not remorse, but relief, upon committing his crime. He felt that by beheading his wife he had inexplicably “broken a cycle of abuse” for his children. He thought that God had given him the “strength” to commit his crime, and that he was helped by “angels”. Curtin Gable: “Do you think that angels helped you stab your wife 41 times? Did angels help you behead her?

To conclude, Curtin Gable got Hassan to admit that he thought the following statements were true:

(a) that abusers are excellent manipulators;

(b) that abusers always blame the victim; and

(c) that what abusers fear most is exposure.

Hassan’s redirect narrative followed the judge’s admonition to stay “laser-like” within the scope of the cross. Most of his information was old news, however.

During a very brief re-cross examination, Curtin Gable got Hassan to admit that there is surveillance video of the murder itself because if he turned it off, an alarm would sound. If that alarm had sounded, Aasiya would have known he was there – he didn’t know how to turn off that alarm.

Afterwards, Hassan called his oldest daughter and tried to examine her, but it didn’t go anywhere. Sonia Hassan was clearly not there to help her father, never looking at him, and referring to him as the “defendant”. From the News’ blog:

Hassan has asked his daughter to explain a hand-written letter she wrote on Jan. 3, 2008.

His daughter, Sonia Hassan, started her explanation by saying that there was a child protection services investigation going on at the time she wrote it.

“Aasiya wanted, for some reason, for you to come back to the house,” Sonia testified. “So I was asked to write this letter because I had been previously blamed for most of the reasons why CPS was involved.”

She added that she could also testify “that I did not believe in any of the sentences I wrote.”

The letter, she said, stated that she didn’t believe her father was a threat.

Sonia Hassan said she did not recall who asked her to write the letter and that it was possible it was Hassan who told her to write the letter.

That didn’t go well. Cross-examining his kids was the genesis of Hassan’s decision to represent himself, but when the time came to do it, it went nowhere. He won’t be calling his son.

Hassan’s examination is complete. He is still presenting his case today in Erie County Court. It is anticipated that the jury may have the case by Friday, depending on the scheduling of certain witnesses.

But the prosecution did what it needed to do. It was short & sweet, didn’t waste the jury’s time like Hassan has, and pointed out specific inconsistencies and other things in Hassan’s story that make zero sense. They have successfully laid the foundation for an argument to the jury that Hassan wasn’t a battered spouse who snapped, killing his abuser in anticipatory self-defense, but that he had methodically planned to murder his wife out of rage – rage that she was escaping his evil clutches. This is classic projection – the only “evil dragon” here is the master manipulator, Muzzammil Hassan.

(Report based on personal observation, together with the #Hassan Twitter search and the Buffalo News’ Live Blog).