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Prosecutor details vicious slaying as Hassan trial opens; Wife beheaded in 47-second rage

The contrast is so striking.

The last hour of Aasiya Zubair Hassan's life started out as ordinary as any other -- haircuts for the kids and a promise to take them to dinner.

But it ended in a horrific, blood-soaked death marked by more than 40 separate slash and stab wounds, and ultimately, a beheading. The attack was so vicious that it allegedly took her husband, Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan, only 47 seconds to do it all with a pair of hunting knives that he had bought earlier that day.

That was the portrait painted by the prosecution in the first day of trial for Hassan, the man charged with second-degree murder ever since Feb. 12, 2009, when he walked into Orchard Park Police Headquarters and confessed to the killing.

"He lured her to her death and savagely killed her while the children waited outside for her to take them to dinner," said prosecutor Paul Bonanno in his opening statement.

Bonanno, chief prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable and the four witnesses called Tuesday described Aasiya Hassan's last hour on Earth in chilling detail. A forensic pathologist testified that in her last moments, she was breathing in her own blood and may have been conscious when the beheading began.

The evening of Feb. 12, 2009, began with the routine acts of daily living for Aasiya Hassan, Bonanno said. She loaded her two children, ages 4 and 6, and her stepson, 17, into her green minivan and took them Supercuts for haircuts.

As Hassan's own children will testify, Bonanno said, Aasiya promised she would take them to dinner at Denny's but first had to drop off clean clothes for their father at the couple's Bridges TV studio since an order of protection barred him from coming to their Orchard Park home.

Hassan had told his wife he wouldn't be there, and it seemed he wasn't. The studio was dark and his car wasn't in its usual space, Bonanno told the jury.

What she didn't know was that just an hour before, Hassan was at the Hamburg Walmart buying two hunting knives. "His purchase was recorded on the store video," Bonanno said. "You will see the defendant carefully examining the knives, testing their sharpness on a cardboard box and then calmly and deliberately buying them."

Aasiya told her children she would be right back and they would be off to dinner. "It was the last time the children saw her alive," Bonanno said.

Video will show Hassan hiding in the darkened studio, he said, then beginning his attack from behind before Aasiya could turn on a light. He brutally and repeatedly stabbed her in the chest, neck, head and hands, the prosecutor said.

"Then, he took the hunting knives and sawed Aasiya's head off," he said, adding that he used enough force to leave slash marks in tile beneath her.

Bonanno said video surveillance, police and expert testimony, and the testimony of Hassan's children will condemn him as a murderer who wanted to carry out this one last act of domination in the face of his abused wife's repeated refusal to withdraw her divorce papers filed six days earlier. "She was the one with everything to fear and reason to flee," he said.

Defense lawyer Jeremy Schwartz responded in his opening statement that he wouldn't insult anyone's intelligence by suggesting Hassan didn't kill his wife, nor would he say that what Hassan did was right or that Aasiya deserved it. But there is more information to be considered, he said.

"Mo Hassan killed his wife," he said, "but he is not guilty of murder in the second degree."

He went on to describe a long-troubled marriage and portrayed Hassan as a man desperately and futilely trying to get help and intervention. Aasiya Hassan repeatedly threatened her husband, stating that she would poison and kill him, Schwartz said.

The day of his wife's death, he said, she had pulled out a large kitchen knife while they were in a private, afternoon conference at Bridges TV. At knifepoint, she demanded he immediately cut ties with two female friends in whom he was confiding for help and support.

"In fear of his life, Mo bought knives of his own," Schwartz said. "He didn't know what was going to happen to him next. He didn't know if he would need to defend himself."

When Aasiya returned to the Bridges studio later that night, Hassan saw his wife reach into her coat and thought the worst, Schwartz said. It "unleashed" a physical and psychological reaction that brought him to the breaking point. "Mo snapped," Schwartz said. "He stabbed her and he killed her When it was over, Mo was in shock. He never tried to escape."

Instead, he turned himself in and was cooperative with police despite having a passport that could have easily taken him out of the country, Schwartz said.

Hassan was not a Muslim fanatic, he said, but an American-educated man twice divorced whose ex-wives are still living. What happened that night was the result of a man unleashing emotions that had built up over the last decade, Schwartz said.

The drama of Tuesday's opening statements was preceded by Erie County Court Judge Thomas Franczyk excusing two jurors and one alternate from the jury for what Schwartz described as "very common personal reasons."

On Friday, 12 jurors and four alternates were sworn in. The elimination of three people leaves only one alternate juror remaining, which could present a major problem if the trial drags on for weeks and two more jurors ask to drop out.

After opening statements, prosecutors called four witnesses: an Orchard Park police dispatcher and police lieutenant who first met Hassan when he turned himself in and confessed to the killing; a forensic lab administrator who collected evidence at the scene; and a forensic pathologist who conducted Aasiya Hassan's autopsy.

Paul Mazur, an evidence collection expert with the Central Police Services Forensic Laboratory, unsealed boxes containing two dark-handled, blood-stained hunting knives collected from a bathroom utility sink at the Bridges studio, as well as a blood-speckled blue dress shirt that had been thrown into an adjacent trash can.

But it was forensic pathologist Mark LeVaughn, deputy chief medical examiner for Erie County, who testified to the most gruesome details of the day, referring to physical diagrams and photographs of the victim's back, chest, head and face taken during his autopsy.

There was no major section of Aasiya's upper back, chest or neck that was untouched by a blade, he testified. The injuries were so numerous -- some stab wounds more than 2 1/2 inches deep -- that LeVaughn ran out of letters in the alphabet to identify each and began adding slash marks to each letter after he got to Z, which marked the decapitation wound.

Fourteen of the stab wounds appeared to have been driven in from the back of her body, he said. In addition, Aasiya's left hand had slash and stab marks indicating she had attempted to defend herself, he said.

When told that the attack may have lasted only 47 seconds, LeVaughn responded that because of the amount of time it takes for the body to bleed itself into unconsciousness, "in my opinion, she could have been conscious at the initiating of the beheading."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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