Emotions Overflow as Trial Starts In Murder of Muslim Teen

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A grand jury in Fairfax County has indicted the murderer of Nabra Hassanen for capital murder and two charges of sexual assault on Monday, October 16, 2017.

In Ramadan, Nabra Hassanen, of Reston, Va., was abducted after leaving the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, Va., by Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, who was arrested on suspicion of murder. According to a recently unsealed search warrant, he admitted to his role in the murder and led police to a pond where they found her body. Torres waived his right to a preliminary hearing and the case went to a grand jury.

Last Friday, the day of the preliminary hearing, hundreds were in the at capacity courtroom, many wearing shirts which said Justice for Nabra and “We will never forget.”

The hearing was held at the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations. Outside, in the courtyard her friends and family stood with posters and banners chanting, ”What do we want Justice! When do we want it- now!”

Nabra’s father clearly distraught yelled, "You killed my daughter," at Torres and was carried out of courtroom by guards. He has not been able to work at his job as a bus driver ever since the murder- he says he cannot concentrate. Her mother, emotional with grief, threw her shoe upon facing her daughter’s killer for the first time. Five more people were escorted out.  Court Judge Kimberly J. Daniel ordered the court cleared.

People who came to see the case were told it is now a private hearing. “One of us died and of course we will show emotion, but to kick us all out?” lamented Zahra Ezzeldine, who was at the hearing.

Nabra’s father has consistently said that she was targeted for her religion, but police say they have found no evidence of a hate crime. They use the term “road rage”  

Her father’s car license plate reads “NABRA” and he has posters of the trial date pasted on the back window. Outside the courthouse, he said, “Everyday I think about my daughter …we say Alhamdulillah,” he said. The crowd echoed, ”Alhamdulillah.”

Gadeir Abbas from Council of Islamic Relations (CAIR) was with the Hassanen family as their lawyer. "We have seen how hard it feels to lose someone's daughter and to see the suspect of the murder in front of their eyes. We were overwhelmed by the emotions," said Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR-National.

Torres’s background of violence also has been a focus of the investigation. A woman in Loudoun County reported Torres had punched, choked and sexually assaulted her a week before Nabra’s killing, according to local news reports. The woman declined to press charges. Nabra’s father wants the killer to face the American justice system; Torres is an El Salvadoran citizen.

The murderer’s status as an undocumented person is political fodder for gubernatorial candidates Republican Ed Gillespie. He brought up Nabra Hassanen’s murder to support his anti-immigrant policies.

Courageous, dependable, admirable, kind was how her classmates remember her. She was at Dulles airport during Muslim Ban 1.0 with her father and younger sister holding up signs asking people if they need free legal help. Her youth group leaders say that the Muslim community lost a kind and gentle “angel.”

Her murder shook the American Muslim community nationally. “I remember sitting paralyzed at the computer the following days, as accounts from her afflicted father, friends, and community members rolled in. Undeniably, the incident sent ripples of grief and shock reverberating throughout our collective Muslim American family,” writes Ayesha Shahnaz, of Noor magazine.

The new details of the case are troubling and will cause more trauma to a community that does not normally discuss sexual assault.

The trial starts October 19, 2017. The prosecution will be seeking the death penalty.