June 15, 2013

Woman sentenced in Sacramento for arranged murder of husband

Shajia Ayobi apologized to her four teenage children Friday for the murder of their father, but she suggested she did what she did on their behalf, sort of as a pre-emptive strike.

Shajia Ayobi apologized to her four teenage children Friday for the murder of their father, but she suggested she did what she did on their behalf, sort of as a pre-emptive strike.

"Through all these years, I never imagined we would see this kind of day," Ayobi said, just before she received her 26-years-to-life sentence in the Dec. 18, 2011, shooting death of her husband, Ghulam Ayobi.

"I always thought it would be the opposite," she said. "I thought we'd come home and my kids would be in a pool of blood. That was my nightmare for 24 hours a day."

There was evidence in Ayobi's trial that her husband had exhibited abusive behavior toward the children. But she based her trial defense on her own allegations that it was she who suffered a torrent of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her husband, almost from the time of their 1993 arranged marriage.

She said it was she who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, first from a domineering father in her native Afghanistan, then from what she saw during the Soviet invasion of her homeland in the early 1980s. A first arranged marriage produced its share of domestic abuse, even before what she said she endured in her relationship with Ghulam Ayobi, another war emigre from Afghanistan. She said he flew into rages and would drag her by the hair and pour toilet water over her head.

The PTSD defense was the third offered by Ayobi, 47, in the killing of her husband. At first, she lied to police, telling them carjackers shot and killed Ghulam, 53, while they were driving on Interstate 80 near Northgate Boulevard, on their way home to Foothill Farms from a dinner party in North Natomas.

When police found some problems in her account, she made up another story – that the CIA put a hit out on her husband, who worked as a cultural sensitivity consultant for the U.S. military.

It turned out, jurors decided in their verdict, that she arranged the murder herself. Prosecutors have since charged a gas station attendant she knew from her criminal justice class at Kaplan College with participating in the killing. They say she hired him to hide in the family van and to shoot and kill Ghulam on the drive home from Natomas.

The alleged accomplice, Jake Clark, 20, has been arrested and charged with murder. He is set for his next Sacramento Superior Court date on Tuesday.

In her remarks Friday at her sentencing, Shajia Ayobi, who had gone back to Afghanistan in 2007 or 2008 to work for a brief while as a linguist, said she loved her husband "deeply." She said she showed it by never turning him in to the police for abusing her.

Mostly, she spoke about her children. The couple had three girls and a boy, ages 13 through 18, according to her probation report. She said, "They have always been my priority, no matter what."

She said, "I stayed on top of my kids and made sure they did well in school" and that they attended Muslim services.

"I was that kind of mother," Ayobi told the court. "When they came home, the food was ready. It was warm, their clothes clean. Everything. Their doctor, everything was up to date."

Ayobi said "I repent every day of my life" for the killing, but that "no matter where I am my kids will be my priority. I will check on them on an everyday basis. I'm never going to leave their sight. If I'm not there physically, emotionally I'm going to be there with them."

All four of the children wrote letters to the court in support of their mother. One of them asked, "I'm just hoping you will send my mother to a good prison that will treat her with care." The youngest daughter said "she was depressed when Father died."

Another daughter wrote, "I still believe my parents were good people and that they had just been through a lot."

Ferishta Kulaly, a niece on Ghulam Ayobi's side of the family, read a statement that her uncle "loved life and shared his passion for life with others." Kulaly said, "If Shajia truly believed her life with her husband was so bad, she could have found another way to get out of this marriage. Divorce was an option."

Deputy District Attorney Kevin Greene argued at trial that Shajia killed Ghulam mainly to get out of the marriage without having to go through the cultural stigma of a second divorce. Greene also said she had a financial motive: She stood to collect $285,000 on an insurance policy.

Judge Helena R. Gweon called the case "tragic and unusual."

"Both Ghulam and Shajia were complex people," the judge said from the bench. "They were well educated, intelligent, hard-working and flawed – deeply flawed. They both had their demons and they both had experienced atrocities."

Gweon said Ghulam Ayobi "did many good things," and although "he was not a perfect man he did not deserve to be killed."

Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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