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‘Honor killing’ defendant’s first wife tells Houston jury about rapes, beatings and attempted poisoning

August 3, 2018

The first wife of a Jordanian immigrant convicted in two “honor killings” testified Friday that he raped her twice in one day in 1979, followed her home, compelled her marry him and in the ensuing 16 years of marriage beat her, threatened her with guns, knives, a rope and a chainsaw - which he said he would use to cut her into pieces and bury her remains in the backyard.

The witness told jurors at his Houston capital murder trial that Ali Mahwood-Awad Irsan, 60, tried to poison her with cyanide tablets, aimed a gun at her genitals,and used stun guns on their children. After the couple had four daughters together, he brought a new Jordanian wife into their home and began severely abusing the second wife.

Prosecutors called Robin Dahl to the stand in the penalty phase of Irsan’s trial in an effort to convince jurors he should be sentenced to death, rather than life in prison without parole, for planning the 2012 shooting deaths of his son-in-law and his daughter’s close friend. Last week, a Harris County jury took a little more than a half hour to find Irsan guilty of the two so-called “honor killings,” homicides that prosecutors said where orchestrated by Irsan to restore the family honor after a daughter left home and later married a Christian man.

Dahl is blind and uses a cane and she was escorted to and from the witness stand. With her body shifted at an angle away from the man she said tormented her, she gave jurors gave a vivid account of what went on behind closed doors for years while she was cut off from contact from others in remote homes they lived in.

She testified that she her vision was significantly compromised, and had just been kicked out of her mother’s home on the day she met Irsan, then 23, on the campus of a community college in Iowa where, at 17, she was trying to finish her GED. That same day, in 1979, she said, he raped her in a muddy area outside the building.

“He pulled me out back and it was all muddy,” she said. “He pulled me through the mud and he raped me back there. He raped me. He pulled me through the mud and there was tall grass back there. He pulled my pants down and raped me back there.”

She fled the area, she told jurors, but he followed her home on the bus. When she got to a friend’s house, he laid in wait and raped her a second time that same day after she exited the home, according to her testimony.

“I showed him back to his mosque and he raped me behind a house,” she testified. “He kind of pulled me back there. He pulled my pants down and he took his belt and he put it above my head and he did it again. He raped me again.”

Iran brought her back to her home, and ultimately forced her to marry him in a Muslim ceremony. They were married a second time before a justice of the peace with her mother and brother present. But she told the jury she didn’t feel comfortable telling her family about the rapes or her fear of the man she was marrying.

Dahl, who was born in the U.S., testified that she understood that Irsan hoped to become a citizen so he could get a job.

In the following years, Dahl said her husband subjected her to severe verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Irsan didn’t want her to work so she stayed at home.

“He kept me isolated. He didn’t allow me to have friends. He kept me away out in the middle of nowhere where I couldn’t have access to people. He didn’t allow me to have phones or transportation,” Dahl testified. “He didn’t like me to have friends. He told me I couldn’t go back to school.”

Irsan also prohibited her from contacting her mother and siblings when he was not around.

“He monitored what I had to say to them…He liked to know exactly what I was saying to them,” she said.

She said the abuse got worse as the years went by. He struck her in the kneecaps with table legs, she said. He struck her with knives. He tried to hang her in the bathroom when she refused to fast during Ramadan.

“I wouldn’t fast so he said, ‘I’m going to hang you in the bathroom.’ He put a rope around my neck and tried to hang me,” she said.

When he bought a chainsaw, she worried he would use it to cut her up, because, “He was always saying he was going to bury me in the backyard.”

Earlier testimony came from a neighbor who said Irsan bragged that he “got away with murder” in 1999 when he killed another son-in-law, apparently avoiding criminal charges by planting a gun on the dead man’s body and claiming self-defense when authorities arrived.

The unusual trial is expected to continue next week, with Irsan’s defense team calling witnesses to testify about his good character.

gabrielle.banks@chron.com

twitter.com/gabmobanks

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