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Accused killer told son, 'My life is over'

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

A Pakistani-born, Jonesboro man, accused of strangling his daughter in July 2008, ordered his oldest son to come home the night she died, telling him, "My life is over," the son testified Tuesday afternoon.

Granted immunity from the state, Hamayen Rashid took the stand to testify against his father, Chaudhry Rashid, charged with killing his only daughter, Sandeel Kanwal. Police say Chaudhry Rashid was furious that his daughter wanted out of her arranged marriage to her cousin.

Father and son worked different shifts at the family-owned Pizza Valley in East Point. Hamayen Rashid said he was surprised to return to the restaurant about midnight, after making deliveries, to find that his father — who worked until about 5 or 6 that evening — had called several times.

Hamayen Rashid said his father spoke to him in their native Urdu. He asked Superior Court Judge Albert Collier for permission to use the court interpreter to translate the conversation into English, because there aren't exact English words for what his father said. Collier told him to answer the best he could.

"He sounded surprised," said Hamayen Rashid. "He said, 'Come home, I'm done. My life is over, come home as soon as possible.' But in Urdu, the word is different and is a long sentence. I left the shop right away to go home."

It may be the closest the jury gets to hearing Chaudhry Rashid admit to killing his daughter. Collier earlier ruled his alleged confession to police inadmissible, because he asked for an attorney at least three times during his interrogation, and was denied. His family hired attorney Lee Sexton to represent them in pleading the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination to keep statements Chaudhry Rashid made to them from coming out in court.

But in a surprise move Tuesday, Clayton prosecutor Jason Green offered Rashid's three sons immunity in exchange for truthful testimony. All three took the stand. One said he was not home, another said he was in a deep sleep and heard nothing. Hamayen Rashid, who said he had a sister who "passed away," told jurors about the call and going home to find his father sitting on the sofa.

Kanwal's fully clothed body was sprawled on the floor of her upstairs bedroom. A crime scene photo showed a bit of blood on her nostril and chin, and ligature marks on her neck. When police arrived about 1:15 a.m., more than an hour after Hamayen Rashid said his father called him home, officers said she was cold to the touch and stiffening, indicating she had been dead for a while.

Earlier Tuesday, Tahira Dawood, 40, of Riverdale, was the state's first witness and testified that Kanwal, 25, was miserable and wanted out of her marriage to her cousin, Majid Latif. "She wanted what girls want," said Dawood. "A happy family, marriage, a husband –– but not the one arranged for her. There was no one else she wanted, it was just a dream."

While Rashid suspected his daughter was having sexual relationships outside of her marriage, Dawood said Kanwal died a virgin. "She was crying and begged me to take her to a doctor to convince her father she was not having affairs, she was not pregnant," said Dawood. "But she'd never had sexual relations with anyone. She said she was a virgin."

Kanwal was born in Pakistan and remained there with her father's brother's family when her mother died, and Rashid moved to the United States, Dawood said.

She was promised to one of her cousins of that household, but moved to her father's Jonesboro home when she was 17. She returned to Pakistan to marry Latif, March 14, 2002, and then came back to Jonesboro.

Latif moved in with the Rashid family for about a month before relocating to Chicago. Kanwal filed for divorce in June 2008, and never saw Latif again. She was killed days later after Rashid picked her up from her College Park Wal-Mart job.

Dawood testified that Kanwal was so afraid of her family's retaliation that she bought a mini-fridge and kept it stocked with food and beverages and locked in her room to keep from eating poisoned food.

Dawood took her to an attorney to file for divorce. Because no one would tell Kanwal where Latif was living, she gave his last known address to file for divorce publication in the local newspaper. The divorce complaint was mailed to that house –– her own –– and Rashid discovered what his daughter had done.

But Dawood disputed the notion that Kanwal was killed because she dishonored her family.

"There was no honor in that killing," she said. "Her father was religious, but not to the extreme that he would use the Islamic religion as an excuse to kill her because she wanted a divorce."