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Defense points finger at son in murder trial

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Defense attorney Alan Begner (from left), defendant Chaudhry Rashid and interpreter Ismail Charania, listen to a Clayton County prosecutor give her closing statement Thursday morning in Rashid's murder trial.

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats Defense attorney Alan Begner (from left), defendant Chaudhry Rashid and interpreter Ismail Charania, listen to a Clayton County prosecutor give her closing statement Thursday morning in Rashid's murder trial.

Clayton County jurors will return this morning to resume deliberations in the trial of a Jonesboro man accused of killing his only daughter in 2008, because she wanted to end her arranged marriage.

Before the case went to the jury, Thursday afternoon, however, the attorney defending Chaudhry Rashid argued that his client was not the killer. Instead, he implicated Rashid's son as the true killer.

Hamayun Rashid sat silently in the Clayton County courtroom as Alan Begner pointed the finger of suspicion at him, and not at his father.

Chaudhry Rashid, the father, is charged with the July 2008 strangulation of Sandeela Kanwal, 25.

Prosecutors said he killed her when she filed for divorce from a 2002 arranged marriage to her cousin, Majid Latif, because her action disgraced and insulted the Pakistani family.

But Begner said her oldest brother was more violent than their father, recalling an earlier incident in which the younger Rashid, reportedly, put a knife to his sister's throat as she slept.

"Hamayun Rashid is likely the real killer of Sandeela Kanwal," Begner told the jury, alleging that the older man may have told his son, "'I'll take the rap for you, you are young, I am old, I'm the patriarch of this family.'"

Begner speculated that the two conspired to keep the killer's identity from the rest of the family.

Clayton County prosecutors said Kanwal was killed minutes after arriving home from work July 5, 2008. Hamayun Rashid testified that he returned to the family-owned pizza place, after making deliveries, to find his father on hold on the business phone.

The son said Rashid told him in his native language, "My life is over" and begged him to return home.

When Hamayun Rashid got home, he told police, his father was sitting on the sofa, smoking and sweating. His sister's body was sprawled on the floor of her upstairs bedroom, ligature marks on her neck.

Although police reported that Chaudhry Rashid burned the bungee cord used to strangle his daughter, a murder weapon, or the remains of one, were not produced during trial.

Jurors deliberated for about an hour before telling Judge Albert Collier they wanted to come back in the morning. They will be considering voluntary manslaughter in addition to murder.

If Chaudhry Rashid is convicted of murder, he will be sentenced to a mandatory life in prison. If the jury finds he acted out of passion, and convicts him of voluntary manslaughter, he could spend up to 20 years in prison.

Several of the jurors complained to a bailiff that they saw one of Rashid's sons taking photos of them with a cell phone during the closing statements. But the sons told Collier they used the phone's camera to zoom in on the white board Begner wrote on during his closing argument, and not to take photos of the jury.

As a precaution, deputies kept the Rashid family inside the courtroom while jurors were escorted to their cars Thursday evening. Once jurors were gone, the family was allowed to leave.