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Suspect 'almost in shock' over beheading of his wife

Under arrest in his wife's brutal death, Muzzammil Hassan is "almost in shock," his attorney said Wednesday following a court appearance in Orchard Park.

"He's having difficulty coping with this," attorney James Harrington said.

Hassan, 44, appeared briefly in the Orchard Park courtroom Wednesday for the first official proceeding since he was arrested last week and charged with second-degree murder. His wife, Aasiya, was found beheaded at the office of their business in the Village of Orchard Park.

Tall and stout in a tan suit, he was led into the courtroom in handcuffs, blinking through his glasses at the approximately two dozen people gathered.

Police had blocked off the street in front of the municipal building on South Buffalo Street and prevented attendees from taking cell phones, cameras or recorders into the courtroom.

During the brief felony hearing, Harrington waived the presentation of evidence, clearing the way for a grand jury proceeding.

"If and when he's indicted, he'll plead not guilty," said Harrington, adding, "It's too early to know what approach we'll take, but we're exploring everything."

Assistant District Attorney Colleen Curtin Gable said her office would seek an indictment against Hassan within 45 days on a charge of second-degree murder. The first-degree charge is reserved for special circumstances, including torture or the death of police.
Conviction on second-degree murder carries penalties ranging from 15 years to life in prison, to 25 years to life, she said.

Hassan was returned to the Erie County Holding Center after his court appearance.

Harrington said that a history of domestic violence will be part of the case.

"They had their problems," he said.

Orchard Park police said they had been called to the couple's home on Big Tree Road because of domestic disputes previously. The most recent occasion was Feb. 6, the day Aasiya Hassan filed for divorce and obtained an order of protection barring Muzzammil Hassan from the house.

Although Hassan told police where to find his wife's body, he has not confessed, Harrington said. Hassan went to Police Headquarters last Thursday evening and said his wife was dead at their business office, a Muslim-oriented television channel on Thorn Avenue.

Harrington rejected a connection between the beheading of Aasiya Hassan and the couple's Muslim religion and culture.

"No, it does not [have any bearing]," he said, adding, "I think the media is doing a very great disservice to the Muslim community."

The brutal nature of the crime has raised questions about whether it was a so-called "honor killing," a possibility that the district attorney's office is investigating. Harrington called questions about the extreme violence of the act inappropriate.

Advocates for women -- some of them Muslims -- have called for the community to acknowledge religious and cultural traditions that stigmatize divorce and heighten the danger of violence in divorce cases.

Meanwhile, the Imams Council of Greater Western New York on Tuesday issued a statement calling it "unfair to vilify the Islamic faith or Muslims" in the homicide.

"To generalize the issue is misleading and masks the real problem that women globally are being abused and domestic violence is on the rise. We must all unite in condemning anyone, of any faith or culture, who harms the innocent and recognize that the causes of domestic violence are not limited to any religion or culture."

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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