The case was set to go to trial for the first time, two years later, in March of 2006, when the prosecutor on the case dropped the bombshell about the involvement of Homeland Security and reams of witness statements that will likely never be seen again.
But the DA’s Office appealed his ruling and the Third District Court of Appeals overturned Judge Lebov’s decision. At this time, Robin Johnson, a Deputy District Attorney, took the case to the Grand Jury, citing the need to expedite the case due to the defense dragging their feet.
The Grand Jury indicted four individuals, adding attempted murder charges, based on the arguments of the DA.
But on January 7th and January 10th of 2011, Judge Mock heard motions by the defense on the charge of prosecutorial misconduct. Judge Mock accepted the testimony of Corporal Thruelsen “on face value,” and ruled that the original prosecutor in the case deliberately misled the court.
Judge Mock dismissed the murder charges because they constitute a “benefit of injustice.” The original charges for the first trial were assault charges, and Judge Mock sought to return the trial to the original charges.
We will have more on the issue of prosecutorial misconduct in a future article.
On Friday, both sides gave their opening statements.
From the prosecution’s perspective, these were the facts. On March 6, 2004, Sayed Sayah, a 47-year-old West Sacramento man from Afghanistan, took his truck to get detailing done locally. The business to which he took the truck was being operated by one of the defendants, Mohammed Qumar Ashraf, a Pakistani.
The two men did not know each other. In the truck, Mr. Sayah had an application form to work as an interpreter for US forces in Afghanistan. Mr. Sayah noticed when he got the truck back that the envelope containing the application had been opened.
He began speaking to Mr. Ashraf about those application papers, and the discussion became heated.
Learning that Mr. Sayah was Afghani, Mr. Ashraf mentioned the Niazi family who were close friends of his and also Afghani. Mr. Sayah said he knew the Niazis and that Khialuddin Niazi, the head of that family, was a coward for not having paid a debt he owed Sayah’s family.
In addition, during that discussion, Mr. Ashraf had allegedly told Mr. Sayah that he was a “bad Muslim” for wanting to help US forces in Afghanistan. According to Mr. Sayah, the Niazis are Taliban sympathizers. Mr. Sayah got his truck detailed and left the business.
Deputy DA Robin Johnson told the jury that Mr. Ashraf then passed on the information he’d learned to Sarajuddin Niazi, one of Khialuddin’s sons, who passed it on to the other son, Zafaruddin Niazi.
Later that night, Mr. Ashraf was told by Mr. Sarajuddin that there would be a meeting between the two heads of the respective families. Around 10 pm Mr. Sayah received a berating phone call from Mr. Khialuddin, in which Mr. Khialuddin told him that he would come and meet Mr. Sayah at his residence.
Shortly after midnight, a vehicle containing the defendants pulled up at the residence of Mr. Sayah. Accoring to the DA, they exited the vehicles, got baseball bats out from the trunk of their vehicle and approached the house.
Zerguy Maazouddin, who was standing in front of the house along with others celebrating Mr. Sayah’s housewarming, was hit in the back of the head and lost consciousness. The prosecution’s version continues, saying Mr. Sayah was attacked in the doorway of the residence and beaten until he was severely injured and unconscious. The attackers then left the scene.
The defense was led by four attorneys: Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson represents Mohammed Ashraf, Charles Swift represents the younger son, Stewart Katz represents the elder son, and Linda Moreno represents the father.
From the defense perspective, Sayed Sayah had gone to the auto detailing business. Mr. Ashraf had seen a Muslim emblem hanging inside Mr. Sayah’s truck and struck up a conversation with him. On learning that Mr. Sayah was Afghani, Mr. Ashraf mentioned his Afghan friends, the Niazis.
Mr. Sayah began to berate the Niazis for being dishonest.
Shortly after that, Mr. Ashraf told this to the Niazis. The elders, Khialuddin Niazi and the head of Mr. Sayah’s family, Aslum Maazouddin, arranged to meet that night to discuss the problem, as is the custom.
Mr. Ashraf was asked to come along as a witness to what he had heard Mr. Sayah saying about the Niazis, which is why he was present at the scene of the incident. He had not been keen to get involved but felt obliged, since it was he who had mentioned what he had heard and gotten the issue going.
When the Niazis arrived at the home of Sayah, they saw a group of people outside celebrating the housewarming, which they had not known about in advance. The elder, Khialuddin Niazi, exited his vehicle and approached the front of the house.
According to the defense, a drunk and unreasonable Mr. Sayah approached him and without warning stabbed him repeatedly in the left side of his torso.
Mr. Sarajuddin, who saw his father being assailed and dropping to the ground, grabbed a baseball bat and came to his father’s side. He struck Mr. Sayah in his legs with the bat, helped by his brother. Mr. Khialuddin was pulled out of the crowd by his sons and taken away to get treatment for his stabbing injuries.
Linda Moreno represents the elder Niazi, 79 years old, born in Kabul. He was completely uneducated, and was taught to sign his name by his own children.
She explained that the Niazis were victimized materially, and eventually physically. She said “I represent the victim in this aweful story.”
In Kabul, the elder Niazi was a farmer, selling fruits and vegetables from town to town.
He was sponsored and brought to America by his first cousin, Aslum Maazouddin. However, she said “there was a price to pay, and a price that had no limits.”
The Maazouddins were exploitative and predatory, not giving money to the Niazis that was sent to them by the government for living expenses.
The claim that the Niazis are Taliban sympathizers is “a despicable lie.”
She pointed out that 25 years ago, at the time the Niazis left Afghanistan, the Taliban did not even exist. The mention of them is to deceive, mislead law enforcement. In today’s society, the worst thing you can be called is a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer.
Charles Swift represents Sarajuddin Niazi, one of the sons. In 1987 Sarajuddin Niazi was a nine-year-old boy who did not speak any English. His family was sponsored by the Maazouddins, out of the refugee camps.
He was an excellent student, who understood that education was his ticket up to a better life.
A member of the sponsor family was supposed to be sending checks to their family. However, as he grew older, he realized that the government checks were not getting through to his family from the Maazouddins. After that, the families had a falling out.
Mr. Swift pointed out that Mr. Sayah was not a nice guy and this was not the first time he had stabbed someone because of a dispute over money.
Stewart Katz did recognize the importance of the Taliban in this case. He said it is the “specter “of the Taliban because the mere mention of the word causes people to suspend their judgment, their common sense.
He said that that explains, in a sense, why we are here. In his view, the person who should be on trial is not on trial, and that is Mr. Sayah.
Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson argued that this case really had nothing whatsoever to do with the Taliban. Instead it is a dispute between two sides of an extended family.
He pointed out that Mr. Ashraf has been in the United States much of his life from a very young age. 30 years old now, a husband and father of three, he attended elementary school in West Sacramento. He was in this country before the Taliban emerged in Afghanistan.
This case has a lot of intrigue, due to the Taliban angle. It also involves Homeland Security and charges of prosecutorial misconduct. The trial is set to go on for several week. The Vanguard will be monitoring this case and will have periodic updates.
—David M. Greenwald reporting