SANTA ANA, Calif. – A man is scheduled to face trial today for his role in a revenge-murder and attempted murder conspiracy targeting the family of his co-defendant's ex-girlfriend. Two victims were murdered and set on fire and a third was left in a coma after suffering life-threatening injuries. Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 30, Hollywood, is charged with two felony counts of special circumstances murder, one felony count of attempted murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder. He faces sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during the commission of a burglary, and murder during the commission of kidnapping. If convicted, Krasnoperov faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole.
This will be the third jury trial against Krasnoperov, a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on May 10, 2011. On Dec. 15, 2011, Krasnoperov was found guilty by a jury of the same charges and was sentenced to life in state prison without the possibility of parole Nov. 9, 2012. In January 2015, the defendant's conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeals, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three. Opening statements are expected to begin between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. today, March 22, 2016, in Department C-41, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
Co-defendant Iftekhar Murtaza, 31, Van Nuys, was found guilty by a jury Nov. 22, 2013, of two felony counts of murder, one felony count of attempted murder and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder with special circumstance sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, and murder during the commission of kidnapping. Murtaza was sentenced to death on March 3, 2015.
Co-defendant Charles Anthony Murphy, Jr., 31, Mission Hills, was found guilty by a jury Dec. 12, 2012, of two felony counts of special circumstances murder, one felony count of attempted murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder with sentencing enhancements for multiple murders, murder during the commission of kidnapping, and murder for financial gain. Murphy was sentenced to life in state prison without the possibility of parole on Jan. 17, 2014.
In March 2007, then 18-year-old Shayona Dhanak was a freshman at the University of California, Irvine, living in the campus dorms. Her father Jaypraykash Dhanak, 56, mother Leela Dhanak, 54, and sister Karishma Dhanak, 20, lived in the family home in Anaheim Hills.
On March 29, 2007, Shayona Dhanak ended a two-year dating relationship with Murtaza. The Dhanaks disapproved of the relationship partly because they were practicing Hindus and Murtaza was a non-practicing Muslim. Murtaza became angry about the break-up and believed that Shayona Dhanak's parents were responsible because they did not approve of the relationship and had pressured her to end the relationship.
Circumstances of the Conspiracy
After the break-up, Murtaza contacted his friend, Krasnoperov, online and telling him in an AOL Instant Messenger (IM) conversation that he wanted to kill Jaypraykash and Leela Dhanak. Krasnoperov is accused of having an IM discussion with Murtaza about ways to murder the victims, including burning their house down or using a hit man. Krasnoperov is accused of offering to contact someone whom he knew “used to do this type of work.”
On April 26, 2007, Krasnoperov is accused of having another online IM conversation with Murtaza to discuss an upcoming meeting, arranged by Krasnoperov. They are accused of planning this meeting with the intention of negotiating the murders of the Dhanak family. Krasnoperov is accused of instructing Murtaza to obtain a picture of the victims by sending Shayona Dhanak an IM asking for a photograph from her recent family trip to India.
At approximately 1:30 p.m. on May 21, 2007, Murtaza contacted and exchanged a series of text messages with his childhood friend, Murphy, and offering him $30,000 “for a job.” Murtaza told Murphy that they should meet in person to discuss the details. Murphy agreed to meet with Murtaza that day and participate in the murders of the Dhanaks that night.
Circumstances of the Murder
On May 21, 2007, the same day Murtaza met with Murphy, the defendants brutally murdering Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak and attempting to murder Leela Dhanak.
Sometime after 6:30 p.m., Jaypraykash Dhanak, who worked with his wife in Irvine, was in his house alone after leaving work and agreeing to meet Leela Dhanak at home later. The defendants entered the Dhanaks' home and forcibly restrainined Jaypraykash Dhanak. The defendants then beat him, stabbed him repeatedly, and put him in a bathroom while waiting for his wife and daughter to arrive home.
At approximately 10:30 p.m., Karishma Dhanak was dropped off at home by a friend. The defendants forcibly detained her. At approximately 10:45 p.m., Leela Dhanak arrived home from work and the defendants immediately attacked her and stabbed her in the stomach. Murtaza and Murphy then doused the home is gasoline, lit the house on fire, and attempted to move the three victims to a van outside.
Once outside of the home, the defendants continued to beat Jaypraykash Dhanak, who was severely injured and not defending himself. A witness in a nearby park observed the fire and began to run toward the house. As the witness approached, the defendants put Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak in the back of a van and fled the scene. The witness flagged down a nearby police officer in a marked patrol car. The officer was the first to arrive at the scene and discovered Leela Dhanak lying unconscious on her neighbor's lawn. The victims' home was engulfed in flames and was largely destroyed by the fire.
Leela Dhanak was transported to the hospital with severe life threatening injuries. The victim suffered stab wounds to her stomach, blunt force injuries to the head, and third degree burns to her arm. She spent approximately three weeks in a coma and over one month in the hospital.
Shortly after 4:00 a.m. on May 22, 2007, five hours after fleeing the Dhanaks' Anaheim Hills home, the defendants took Jaypraykash and Karishma Dhanak to a bike trail at Mason Regional Park in Irvine. Murtaza and Murphy murdered the victims and set their bodies on fire with gasoline. The defendants then fled the scene. Officers responding to calls reporting the early-morning fires discovered the bodies.
Officers from the Anaheim Police Department began investigating the case and indentified Murtaza as a suspect. Murtaza fled from Orange County to Phoenix, AZ. On May 25, 2007, Murtaza attempted to flee to India from Arizona with a one-way plane ticket and $11,000 in cash. He was arrested attempting to board a flight to India and was later extradited back to Orange County on June 13, 2007. Subsequent investigation led to the arrest of Krasnoperov on June 22, 2007, and Murphy on Aug. 17, 2007.
Assistant Head of Court Howard Gundy of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.
*The murdered victims' bodies and house were set on fire; two co-defendants have been sentenced in this case
Orange County District Attorney / Case # 07NF2178 / March 22, 2016