A Minnesota man charged with murder after investigators said he “executed” his stepdaughter in April 2011 will spend the rest of his life in prison following a guilty verdict in Macomb County Circuit Court Oct. 19.
Within an hour of entering deliberations, a jury found Rahim Alfetlawi, 46, formerly of Coon Rapids, Minn., guilty of first-degree murder and weapons charges in the death of 20-year-old Jessica Mokdad.
The verdict capped a four-day trial before Circuit Court Judge David Viviano.
Assistant Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney William Cataldo, chief of homicide in Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith’s office, cast Alfetlawi as an obsessed man who raped Mokdad after she turned 18 and attempted to control every aspect of her life.
Witnesses called to testify for the prosecution – including the man who married Mokdad in a metro Detroit mosque at Alfetlawi’s insistence, and her mother, Alfetlawi’s wife – told jurors that Alfetlawi bugged the family’s vehicles and apartment in Minnesota and that they suspected he spied on the couple using video and audio surveillance equipment.
Investigators said Mokdad twice came to Michigan to escape her stepfather and that she stayed at various times with family or friends in Grand Blanc, Warren, and Dearborn in early 2011.
Mokdad reportedly returned to Minnesota in March 2011 at Alfetlawi’s insistence after he came to Michigan with Mokdad’s mother, Wendy Wasinski, to bring her back.
But Mokdad returned to metro Detroit by train soon after, and investigators said she was murdered by Alfetlawi in Warren on April 30, 2011.
Cataldo said Alfetlawi first attempted to locate Mokdad at her biological father’s home in Grand Blanc. When he couldn’t find her there, he drove to Warren where he found her alone moving family belongings at her grandmother’s home on Tallman, near 10 Mile and Hoover.
Mokdad was shot once in the head with a 9mm handgun.
“As he had just discovered that she began to disclose that he had been raping her for several years, once it was out in the open, he didn’t want her to tell anybody, so he murdered her,” Cataldo said after the verdict. “It had nothing to do with honor and culture. If he couldn’t have her, nobody was going to. He was absolutely obsessed with her.”
Defense attorney Mark Haddad, who took over the case in September, argued that the physical evidence gathered at the scene didn’t rule out his client’s claim that Mokdad’s death was an accident.
Alfetlawi surrendered to police at the Center Line Public Safety Department immediately after the shooting and later said Mokdad was shot when she discovered a gun in his waistband during an embrace and attempted to grab it.
“Forty-nine years ago, a young president was killed. To this day you have experts who disagree about the bullet’s trajectory and the blood splatter,” Haddad said. “It’s not an exact science. It could have easily been an accident the way he said. But the jury didn’t accept that theory.”
Haddad said the judge’s decision to allow testimony that painted his client as an obsessive, controlling man prone to violence who sexually assaulted Mokdad confounded his efforts to defend Alfetlawi.
He said he was unaware of a letter sent from jail by Alfetlawi to Wasinski, pointing erroneously to toxicology results from Mokdad’s autopsy as justification for his purported concerns about her lifestyle choices.
Cataldo said the letter was the “icing on the cake” that proved premeditation. He said Alfetlawi, an Iraqi immigrant who listened to the trial through headphones with the assistance of an interpreter, looked at a list of substances tested for in the report and falsely surmised that the toxicology results proved that she had been using drugs.
“He was dead wrong, because in fact the next page showed the only substances in her system were caffeine and anti-depressant prescription medication,” Cataldo said. “He took the cover sheet and sent that to (Wasinski) and said, ‘Show this to her best friend, and to her husband and her father. I was right.’”
Alfetlawi was scheduled to be sentenced before Judge David Viviano at 9 a.m. Nov. 15. He faces mandatory life in prison.
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