FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — Four months after a 17-year-old girl’s death rattled northern Virginia’s Muslim community, emotions remained raw as the girl’s mother disrupted a pretrial hearing by hurling a shoe at the man accused in her slaying.
More than 200 family members and friends of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen turned out at the hearing Friday in the Fairfax County courthouse. Darwin Martinez-Torres, 22, of Sterling, is charged with murder in the death of the popular student at South Lakes High School in Reston.
It was the first face-to-face encounter between Nabra’s parents and the suspect. They charged at him, and deputies had to hold them back.
Her mother, Sawsan Gazzar, shouted “I’ll kill you!” after throwing her shoe at Martinez-Torres, who was quickly hustled out of the courtroom. The father, Mohmoud Hassanen Aboras, shouted “He killed my daughter!” as deputies removed him as well. A third person who shouted expletives also was ordered out.
Eventually, deputies cleared the entire courtroom, and held a truncated hearing in a smaller courtroom, closed off to the vast majority of spectators. Martinez-Torres waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and the case will be sent to a grand jury, where an indictment is expected next week.
Hassanen was killed June 18 as she was walking back to her mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, for pre-dawn Ramadan services. Hassanen and more than a dozen friends had been at a fast-food restaurant, eating ahead of a daylong fast.
Police say Martinez-Torres encountered the group at about 3:40 a.m., got into a confrontation with some of the kids who had been in the roadway, and then chased after them. Police say Martinez-Torres caught Hassanen and bludgeoned her with a baseball bat.
A police search warrant says Martinez-Torres led police to Hassanen’s body, which he had dumped in a lake.
The circumstances of the girl’s death led many to speculate about a possible hate crime, but police have said the slaying is a case of road rage.
After Friday’s hearing, Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh said it is possible that additional charges will be submitted to the grand jury beyond the preliminary murder count.
Asked about a hate crime, Morrogh declined to discuss the evidence in any detail. He said he remains open to considering any evidence of a hate crime, but so far has not seen anything to lead him in that direction.
Morrogh also did not rule out a potential death penalty charge. Virginia law allows a capital murder charge only under certain conditions, including premeditated murder in the commission of a robbery, or premeditated murder during commission of an attempted rape.
Hassanen’s father thanked the community after Friday’s hearing for supporting the family.
“Every day I think about my daughter,” he said. “All of us came here today for justice for Nabra.”
Gadeir Abbas, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is representing the family, said “the community’s expectation is that justice will be done.”
“There is no question that this community will be watching the process,” he said. “They will see to it that there is justice for Nabra.”
After the hearing, many of those who were forced to leave the courthouse rallied on a plaza under a large U.S. flag, chanting “Justice for Nabra.”
Martinez-Torres’ lawyer, public defender Dawn Butorac, declined comment. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has lodged a detainer against Martinez-Torres, who is from El Salvador, meaning federal authorities believe they have evidence he’s in the country illegally.