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Hassan cites report to support abuse claim; Says evaluation shows wife hit him

Perhaps the most telling aspect of Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan's murder trial Tuesday came at the start of the day -- before the jury was seated, before the prosecution played the surveillance footage of his wife's killing and before jurors were shown her blood-soaked, sliced-up clothes.

Hassan, now acting as his own lawyer, asked Erie County Judge Thomas Franczyk to force the prosecution to release supplementary information related to the mental evaluation of Hassan done by Dr. Gary Horwitz, a Rochester-based psychiatrist.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable objected, saying, "Nothing Dr. Horwitz is going to opine is favorable to this witness, that's for sure."

Hassan responded that there are numerous pieces of information in the report that support his claim that he was a battered spouse. When the judge asked where, Hassan referred him to page 23 of Horwitz's report.

That page, Hassan said, shows that Aasiya Zubair Hassan was abusive and had rage issues that involved her hitting him.

Franczyk flipped to page 23 and started reading aloud.

He read that Aasiya reported that Hassan physically restrained her by sitting on her and that she would hit him to try to break free. He read that she would argue with Hassan, but none of her older children ever saw her use a weapon against him.

"Do you want me to go on?" Franczyk asked Hassan.

"Yes," Hassan responded, saying the rest of the passage shows that his wife was a liar.

Franczyk then read aloud about how Aasiya lied about the injuries to her body and face and how she avoided getting medical care for her injuries because she wanted to protect her husband from criminal prosecution.

The judge put the document down and looked at Hassan with an incredulous expression.

"How in heaven's name do you regard that as Brady material?" he asked, referring to material held by the prosecution that is considered favorable to the defense.

Hassan responded that he believes Horwitz's report cites 21 examples of psychiatric abuse by the victim.

He said that all of his wife's claims of being abused are "completely fictitious" and that he was the victim of a "misinformation campaign by Aasiya."

After the jury was brought in for Tuesday's trial proceedings, prosecutors introduced three Orchard Park police witnesses, all of whom testified about evidence they had collected or received after Aasiya was stabbed and beheaded on Feb. 12, 2009, in the couple's Bridges TV studio.

>Fuzzy footage

The much-anticipated surveillance footage, apparently showing Hassan's attack on his wife, was extremely dark, fuzzy and indistinct. The studio surveillance system captured an image every five seconds, so there were no smooth images of motion.

Even after efforts by state police to lighten the surveillance video, the most that viewers could conclude was that Aasiya was attacked by Hassan within seconds of her arrival. Based on the images, it appears that Hassan came at her in the dark and raised an object, presumably a knife, when the attack began and that it ended quickly.

Detective John Payne, who continued his testimony from Monday, commented on the video and showed jurors the victim's slashed and bloody jacket, hooded sweat shirt and black undershirt, drawing looks of horror from observers in the courtroom gallery.

He also opened evidence bags containing floor tiles with spattered blood, hair and deep knife gouges from the decapitation point.

The jurors so far have appeared stoic during presentation of evidence, but they also have been extremely attentive, particularly to the surveillance video and other evidence presented Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Hassan talked frequently and in a relaxed manner with his former defense lawyer, Jeremy Schwartz, who is now serving as his legal adviser. While jurors focused on the footage of the killing, Hassan was often talking and occasionally chuckling.

Like Monday, Hassan's attempts at cross-examination were met with frequent objections by the prosecution. During his cross-examination of Payne, Curtin Gable objected to his questions nearly 40 times. Most were sustained.

Hassan generally asked the officers to repeat that Hassan was cooperative, patient and respectful to them after he turned himself in and inquired about his children. He also used cross-examination to note that he had opportunities to flee from police and leave the country but did not.

>Officer questioned

Finally, Hassan attempted to suggest to jurors that Aasiya was diagnosed as an abuser and that just because her prior injuries may have been introduced as evidence, it doesn't mean he was at fault.

"Does a bruise tell you who started a fight?" he asked Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster.

"No, it does not," McMaster responded.

"Does a wound tell you who started the fight?" Hassan asked.

"No, it does not," McMaster said.

The introduction of many more bags of evidence, surveillance video and police testimony followed a lengthy, on-the-record conference in court before the jury's seating Tuesday morning. Hassan had requested a private conference with the judge but was denied.

In response to Hassan's request for supplemental psychiatric information from Horwitz's report, Franczyk said Hassan was entitled to the information only if he was equally prepared to stop "playing hide-and-seek" with his own information regarding possible testimony by expert psychiatric witnesses.

"Right now, you've told us nothing," he said.

Hassan then insisted that Ana Natasha Cervantes, a forensic psychologist, was still planning to testify on his behalf. In response, Franczyk read from a Jan. 24 letter sent to his office, in which Cervantes stated once again that she has no intention of testifying on Hassan's behalf.

"Has something changed since yesterday?" Franczyk asked.

Hassan repeated that he still expected her to testify. Franczyk then ran down the expanded list of witnesses that Hassan had submitted, asking him point-blank if he had reached agreements with and retained any of the psychiatric experts he had listed.

After getting advice from Schwartz, Hassan refused to say.

Curtin Gable noted that Hassan's potential witness list also included herself, District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III and Franczyk.

"You are planning on calling me as a witness in a trial over which I am presiding?" Franczyk asked. "And what would I do then, put Mr. Schwartz in my seat?"

Hassan also asked that a Buffalo News reporter covering the trial be removed from the courtroom gallery because she had previously interviewed him in the Erie County Holding Center and was on Hassan's potential witness list.

"What would the expected testimony be?" Franczyk asked.

Hassan paused, then said the reporter was responsible for writing negative stories about his case that made it difficult for him to secure a psychiatric expert for his defense.

The judge denied his request.

The trial continues today.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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