Was Noor Almaleki the victim of an honor killing?
On Jan. 24, 2011, more than a year after Noor Almaleki's tragic death, testimony in her father's murder trial is about to begin.
"Even if you think you have the biggest slam dunk case in the history of criminal justice... You never know what's gonna happen when you get in front of a jury," said Det. Chris Boughey.
The stakes are high not only for Det. Boughey, but for prosecutor Laura Reckart, as well. This will be one of the first cases in the United States prosecuted as an honor killing.
"No one can acquire honor by doing what is wrong," she tells the court.
For the prosecutor, an experienced trial attorney who has taken on tough criminals like ex-mafia hit man Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, this case was the toughest to understand.
"It's chilling that your own flesh and blood that you would mow down with your own car because it suits your culture. It's just cold," said Reckart.
But the question for the jury isn't whether Faleh Almaleki drove the vehicle that ran down his daughter and badly injured Amal Khalaf. They'll have to decide whether it was a premeditated act... an honor killing.
"I want that jury to understand that...this father had a motive to kill," Reckart told Troy Roberts.
"This is a case about a man, the defendant, who committed these horrific and oh so wrong crimes all in the name of his sense of honor," she told the court.
But defense attorney Elizabeth Mullins argues that Faleh never intended to harm anyone.
"Abu Noor lost his Noor. That was never his intent," she said in court.
She claims he merely meant to spit on Amal and scare his daughter, but accidentally hit them both.
"And when he yanks the wheel, he hits the curb, goes up on the median and runs over a tree," Mullins continued. "He stops...he looks back. 'Noor. Noor. My baby is lying in the - she's lying there.' Noor's in the median. He panics."
Then, she says, Faleh fled.
To reinforce their case, Jeff Kirchler -- another defense attorney -- sets his sights on Det. Boughey, arguing that Faleh insisted it was an accident after he was taken into custody.
Defense Attorney Jeff Kirchler: He tells you over 15 times that it was an accident. ...And you're trying to get him to tell you that he did this on purpose, that it wasn't an accident, is that correct?
Det. Boughey: Yeah, I told him I didn't believe it was an accident and that he had the opportunity to tell everybody why he did what he did.
Then, Kirchler strikes at the heart of the prosecution's theory - claiming Faleh had no motive to murder his daughter. In fact, he suggests it was investigators who planted the notion of honor.
Jeff Kirchler: You ask him... "you were trying to restore that honor that was taken away," is that right?
Det. Boughey: Yes.
Jeff Kirchler: And you gave him this "it was honor," 'cause you knew something about his culture, right?
Det. Boughey: Yes.
Jeff Kirchler: He denies that this was the reason that this occurred, right?
Det. Boughey: He doesn't come out and say that's the reason why this occurred, no.
"Up to two years prior to this incident. This was a man who was saying that he was being dishonored by his daughter. He'd rather to go to jail for the rest of his life, than be dishonored by his daughter," Reckart told Roberts.
"This was a calculated and premeditated act?" Roberts asked.
"In our opinion, yes, it was," she replied.
Reckart says the crime scene photos and analysis from crash reconstruction experts show Faleh had enough time to brake before striking Noor and Amal.
"...It's quick. But you make a conscious decision to put your foot on the accelerator. And that's reflection--that's premeditation. And that's first-degree murder," she said.
To prove Noor had reason to fear her father, prosecutors present the text messages she sent moments before the attack, in which Noor says she was scared.
And the jury received transcripts of recorded jail house phone conversations between Noor's parents after Faleh's arrest.
"I think one of the most telling calls was when the defendant's wife says to him, 'You rushed it,'" said Reckart.
In that call, Noor's father said, "I didn't assault someone from the street. I tried to give her a chance." His wife responds, "You rushed it. You rushed it Faleh."
"They were going to take some action, even if that meant killing her," said Reckart.
"He's waitin' in the parkin' lot for 45, 50 minutes," Boughey said. "To me, that shows premeditation. He coulda gone home. But instead he chose to wait until they came out."
"I saw a car parked here..." witness Charles Cooper testified, pointing to photo of the DES parking lot.
In all, the state calls 22 witnesses to prove their case, including Shaneil Nakamoto, who ran to Noor's side that fateful day.
"We heard an engine revving...and then I saw a car heading toward Peoria Ave," she testified.
But the most crucial witness for the prosecution was Amal Khalaf -- the lone survivor who was with Noor when they were both struck by Faleh.
"You were concerned whether or not Amal was gonna show up," Roberts commented to Reckart.
"I actually was. And at one point, I thought I was gonna have to proceed without a victim," the prosecutor said.
"...I saw him. When-when he hit me," Amal testified through a translator. "He was driving so fast."
Amal took the stand at great personal risk, Reckart says, fearing retaliation from an Iraqi community that had now turned their back on her for testifying - and she asks the judge not to show her face on the witness stand.
"Do you fear for your safety for speaking out?" Roberts asked Amal.
"Of course," she replied. "Fear is always there."
In fact, to this day Amal still lives in hiding.
"In Faleh's mind, was this an honor killing?" Roberts asked Amal.
"Was he proud of it? Yes," she replied.
Throughout the trial, Faleh's family supported him in court. But as in life, Det. Boughey says no one stood for Noor.
"There was an underlying fear...in everybody that we talked to associated with Noor," Boughey said. "...that if they -- testified in court -- in front of their community, they could have some problems."
It's something that still haunts her friend, Adhi.
"No one was on her side," he said. "No one was there to testify and say that her dad abused her, her dad did this, her dad did that, her parents harassed her. No one was there to say it. If I knew first hand, I would have done it in a heartbeat."
After a month-long trial, the defense rests without calling a single witness. And with all eyes on him, Faleh chooses not to testify -- leaving lawyers to argue about whether he's the victim of circumstance... or a killer done in by his own conceit.
In closings arguments, the defense reminds the jury that it was an accident and there's no evidence to prove Faleh intended to harm anyone.
But prosecutor Laura Reckart says otherwise.
"Good fathers protect their children. ...Good fathers don't blame their children. ...Good fathers especially don't kill their children," she told the court.
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