Michael Shazad Hassan remembered sitting in the back of the locked police car after being abandoned in the family's minivan at the Bridges TV studio the day of his stepmother's death.
"I was freaking out," he told the jury in the murder trial of his father, Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan on Wednesday.
There was snow on the ground, and it had been incredibly cold in the minivan before the Orchard Park police finally came for them. He was 17. His step-siblings, then ages 4 and 6, were strapped in their car seats in back, he said.
Cold air had blasted into the van because Michael had gotten out and left the door open while trying desperately to get into the locked TV studio where his mother had entered and never returned, he said.
There was heat in the police cruiser but no way out from the inside. Michael said he felt claustrophobic, trapped. As police turned on the lights inside the studio, he squared his back against the car window so his little brother and sister couldn't see whatever lay inside. And he feared the worst.
"I assumed, at that point, Aasiya had been killed or seriously injured," he said.
Hassan's two older children, Michael and Sonia, offered the most compelling testimony for the prosecution Wednesday, the second day of Hassan's trial.
A family baby sitter and two other witnesses also testified Wednesday.
The children, both attending the University at Buffalo and living with their biological mother in Pennsylvania, described instances of physical abuse they saw Hassan inflict on Aasiya and his violent reaction the day he was served with divorce papers.
They also recounted the frantic and terrifying moments on Feb. 12, 2009, when they went from fearing the worst to having police confirm it, that the woman they'd grown to love as a mother was dead.
Neither has spoken to their father since that day.
Both older children came to live with their father and Aasiya in 2004, after their mother, Janice Haller, remarried and was preparing to move the family from the Rochester area to Pennsylvania where their stepfather had found work.
Hassan objected and took legal action to prevent his older children from moving with his first wife, they stated. They relented and moved in with Hassan and Aasiya, a woman they grew to love as a parent and friend. They started calling her "amma," meaning mother, they said. And they both grew very close and protective of their younger half-siblings. When Aasiya mentioned that she was going to divorce Hassan in early 2009, they both said they'd rather live with her.
"She was a parent to me," Michael stated. "He was not."
"I loved her," said Sonia, crying from the witness stand. "She was my mom, and I loved my brother and sister."
The day Hassan was served with divorce papers, Sonia testified, she and Aasiya and the two younger siblings retreated to a corner of the Target department store to hide from him. After picking up Michael, they returned to their house, only to find their father pulling into the driveway behind them, she said.
"So we started running," she said. They ran into the house and locked the windows and doors. They heard Hassan yelling outside and throwing his 300-pound body against the doors, they testified. They called the police, but before officers arrived, Hassan had slammed his fist through a side-door window and tried to reach around to unlock the door.
Orchard Park Officer Joseph Rizzo testified that when he arrived at the scene, Hassan's hands were soaked with blood.
Rizzo put Hassan in handcuffs, but he said it wasn't against the law at that time to destroy one's own property, even in a domestic violence situation. Hassan was served an order of protection, banned from the premises and released, the officer testified.
Michael Hassan was the first to testify Wednesday. Slim, with dark-brown hair and bangs, he walked purposefully into court in a dark-blue dress shirt and striped tie. He offered chilling details, seldom looking his father's way.
"You don't like your father very much, do you?" defense lawyer Jeremy Schwartz asked.
"No, sir," Michael said.
His sister, Sonia, had the same color hair pulled back in a ponytail, and wore glasses and a burgundy button-down shirt. She was more emotional in her testimony, often struggling to get through her retelling of abuse against Aasiya without breaking down.
Before she testified, Hassan requested permission from Judge Thomas Franczyk to personally cross-examine his daughter. Franczyk denied the request, saying he had no legal right to have Schwartz represent him while also representing himself.
"Why would you want to put your daughter through this, directly from you?" he asked.
When Hassan said there were "many details" to which his lawyer wasn't privy, Franczyk responded that he'd had two years to convey "reams" of information to his lawyer.
The combined testimony of the two older children recounted several instances of alleged abuse, which The Buffalo News has previously reported in less detailed accounts from Aasiya's divorce affidavit. Two of the most serious, alleged incidents:
*In 2007, after a long argument in which Sonia and her father argued about how she didn't respect him enough, Hassan took a "swipe" at her as she brushed past him, striking her on the back.
Michael, then 15, saw the incident unfold and was livid.
"I yelled at him that I would [expletive] kill him," he said, later telling Schwartz, "I did not want to see my father hurt people in front of me." When he and his father exchanged punches, Aasiya tried to intervene. "Aasiya started freaking out and said, 'Stop it! He's your son,' " Sonia recounted.
Michael wound up with a broken nose, but Aasiya was also punched in the face by Hassan for attempting to break up the fight, they testified.
"My dad turned on her and said, 'It's your fault for turning them against me,' " Sonia recalled.
*In August 2008, Michael and Sonia heard arguing in the master bedroom followed by a loud crash and a scream. As Michael hustled the younger children to the basement, Sonia investigated and saw blood gushing from her stepmother's nose.
"She was covered in blood," she said, wiping away tears. "There was just so much blood."
Though Sonia only had a learner's permit at the time, she repeatedly begged Aasiya and her father to let them take her to the hospital but was denied, she said. In Sonia's presence, she testified, Hassan hovered over his wife and said, "I'm sorry, but you deserved that."
Jennifer Greer, a senior at Buffalo State College previously interviewed by The News, testified last. She told the jury that in August 2006 she witnessed Hassan drag his wife across their driveway with his arms under hers and his hands wrapped in her hair as she struggled and screamed.
She also testified that in October 2007, Aasiya tried to fly to New York City, and Greer agreed to give her a ride to the airport. Aasiya, Greer and the two young children were all in the car when Hassan caught up to them in his own car and ran them off the road as cars screeched to a stop behind them, she said.
Testimony continues today.