Jury in 'honor killing' trial hears opening statements

By Aaron Barker - Senior Web Editor, Leigh Frillici - Reporter, Ryan Korsgard - Reporter

HOUSTON - The jury in the trial of a man accused of committing an "honor killing" nearly six years ago heard opening statements Monday.

Testimony ended around 4:45 p.m. Monday and will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Ali Irsan appeared in court earlier this month as jury selection for his capital murder trial began.

Irsan, 62, is accused of capital murder in the shooting deaths of Gelareh Bagherzadeh and Coty Beavers back in 2012.

VIDEO: Jury hears opening statements in honor killing trial

The prosecution paints a portrait of Irsan as a controlling father who was upset that one of his daughters, Nesreen Irsan, left his home and married a Christian man named Coty Beavers. Prosecutor Jon Stephenson claims Ali Irsan was also upset that his daughter had turned to her friend Gelareh Bagherzadeh, a student at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center who had converted to Christianity, for help.

"There is only one way to regain that honor and redeem that shame," Stephenson said.

Ali Irsan is accused of playing a role in the killing of Bagherzadeh and Beavers.

Stephenson said Irsan wanted to hurt his daughter by killing the people she loved.

The prosecution alleges that the night Bagherzadeh died, Ali Irsan, along with his wife, Shmou Wabdeh, and son, Nasim, were all part of the crime. Prosecutors said they also planned to kill Nesreen Irsan.

“They had decided that tonight was the night, and Ali armed Nasim with a gun and they left,” Stephenson said. “They followed her to her home on Augusta, which is in The Galleria area. They follow her into a parking lot, and they see her sitting there talking on the phone. Ali Irsan approaches the car on one side and Nasim Irsan approaches the car on the other side, while Shmou waits in the car for them. Nasim Irsan shoots Gelareh in the head and executes her as she sits in the car.”

During opening statements for the defense, Ali Irsan’s attorney said Irsan was not a man who would commit honor killings. The attorney claimed Irsan’s wife had cheated on him and another daughter had sent nude pictures of herself to another man, but that neither woman was killed.

"This isn't an attack on the Muslim religion. This is one man and one family's extremist views that were taken to the extreme and led to the deaths of two innocent people," Stephenson said.

There have been a lot of twists and turns in this case. In opening statements Monday, we learned Ali Irsan’s wife will testify against him. She was charged with murder.

"This case is not an honor killing case,” said defense attorney Allen Tanner.

Tanner said this is a chaotic case that will leave jurors confused. After all, he said, his client married a Christian.

"The state's going to want you to convict Mr. Irsan of capital murder. A 62-year-old man, they're going to want you to either execute him or give him life without parole in a case which you truly are not going to know what happened," Tanner said.

Ali Irsan’s son has also been charged with capital murder in connection with the deaths of Bagherzadeh and Beavers, and another daughter of Ali Irsan’s, Nadia Irsan, was charged with stalking.

A former neighbor of Ali Irsan said he helped Nesreen Irsan escape from the family home.

"She looked like she was running away. She was very nervous. She was very scared. She was wearing a dirty pair of pants," he said.

More than 100 witnesses are expected to testify in the trial, which could last six to eight weeks.

After opening statements and the first day of testimony on Monday, Ali Irsan's case is expected to be heard in a federal courtroom.

Due to Hurricane Harvey damage, the Harris County Criminal Justice Center has been closed and a federal courtroom will be provided for the case.

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