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Hassan's words to police ruled admissible for trial

When Muzzammil S. "Mo" Hassan turned himself in to Orchard Park police about an hour after his wife was slain Feb. 12, 2009, he shook a police lieutenant's hand and appeared "calm, cool and collected" during their one-minute exchange.

"I want to tell you I just killed my wife, and I'm here to turn myself in," the 44-year-old Hassan told Lt. Joseph A. Buccilli in the police lobby.

The two sat on a bench, and Buccilli asked where she was.

Hassan replied she was in the office of the Muslim-oriented Bridges cable television station they co-founded.

When Buccilli asked whether he was sure she was dead, Hassan used a downward hand gesture and said, "She's gone; there's no doubt about it."

At the time, Hassan's children were outside the police building in a van.

Police charged him soon after with killing and beheading his estranged wife, Aasiya Zubair Hassan, 37.

And on Monday, Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk ruled that what Hassan said after walking into Orchard Park Police Headquarters can be used at his murder trial in September.

The judge also said that there is no reason to suppress physical evidence collected by police.

"While a police station is typically perceived as a custodial setting, it should be noted, first of all, that the defendant appeared there not at the request or direction of law enforcement, but rather of his own accord," Franczyk said in his written decision.

"Moreover, the statement that he had killed his wife and was there to surrender himself was spontaneously given to Lt. Buccilli."

Buccilli asked Hassan whether he had a key that police could use to get inside the TV station. Hassan turned over the key without hesitation. Buccilli then drove to the station at 227 Thorn Ave. and gave the key to a detective.

Hassan's attorneys, Frank M. Bogulski and Julie Atti Rogers, had questioned whether Hassan's statements to police were legal and voluntary, noting that he had not been read his rights as a criminal suspect until he had been in custody for more than two hours.

The victim's body was found in the office of the cable network, about two hours after the beheading, which occurred at about 5 p.m. Hassan turned himself in to police at 6:10 p.m.

The couple founded the Muslim affairs network, which went on the air in 2004, but Hassan was living in the Clarion Hotel in Hamburg because of court orders of protection that his estranged wife had obtained against him.

At 8:41 p.m., after police had gone inside the studio, Hassan was escorted into a conference room in Police Headquarters, where police read him his Miranda rights. Hassan then said he wished to exercise those rights.

Ten minutes later, Hassan asked for his sleep apnea machine, which he said could be found at the hotel. He told police he could not sleep without it; he also asked about the well-being of his children.

Buccilli told him they were comfortable downstairs at Police Headquarters and that police had informed the older son and daughter about what had happened. Hassan expressed concern about where the children would stay but did not wish to see them.

A lawyer for Hassan contended that his initial statements should be suppressed, as well as his identification of the office key.

But everything Hassan said will be allowed into his trial, the judge ruled.

Once Hassan told Buccilli that he had killed his wife, "it only makes sense that Lt. Buccilli would ask some follow-up questions to clarify a situation about which he had no prior knowledge," Franczyk said.

Once Hassan was handcuffed and escorted to the police interrogation room, he was, for all intents and purposes, in custody, even if not formally under arrest, the judge ruled.

Still, even with Hassan in custody, the police were confronted with an unconfirmed life-and-death situation that required an immediate response, Franczyk said.

"Having just walked in out of the blue and surrendered himself for the claimed murder of his wife, it was reasonable for him to expect that the police would want to gain access to the place where he said she was located," the judge said. "Under the circumstances, the legitimate concern over the victim's status and the need to gain prompt access to her took precedence, in this court's view, over the need for Miranda warnings at this point in the investigation."

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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