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Manslaughter Verdict Sought in Slaying : Courts: Judge reduces murder charges against Iranian immigrant in wife's death. Attorney says man's cultural background was a factor.

March 10, 1994|THOM MROZEK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VAN NUYS — Outlining his unique "cultural defense" strategy, an attorney defending an Iranian immigrant who admittedly bludgeoned his wife to death told a jury Wednesday that his client will not shirk his responsibility, but that he should be convicted only of voluntary manslaughter.

Meanwhile, Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Kathryne Ann Stoltz dismissed first-degree murder charges against Moosa Hanoukai in the death of his wife, Manijeh, on the night of March 20, 1993.

Hanoukai, 55, erupted and killed his wife after a particularly virulent fight that was laced with many curses and threats, attorney James E. Blatt said in his opening statement.

"An explosion occurred out of frustration, of rage," Blatt said. "Mr. Hanoukai took a wrench from the kitchen and went upstairs and killed his wife," he said, providing the first details on how the woman was killed.

No murder weapon was found, but a medical examiner testified earlier this week that Manijeh Hanoukai died from blunt force trauma.

Blatt made his opening statement after Deputy Dist. Atty. Kathleen M. Cady rested her case, in which she characterized the slaying as a calculated murder that arose from a domestic dispute.

As Blatt spoke, Hanoukai wept, and a male juror in the six-man, six-woman panel appeared to wipe away tears.

The body of Manijeh Hanoukai, 45, was found in the garage of the couple's Woodland Hills home five days after she was killed. Blatt said that after the slaying, Hanoukai realized what he had done, cleaned up the blood and left the body in the garage after wrapping it in plastic and blankets.

Hanoukai spent 25 years in a miserable marriage that was arranged by a matchmaker. For years he was forced to sleep on the floor by his domineering wife, Blatt said. Eventually, Blatt added, Hanoukai could take no more, frustrated by his wife, isolated by his inability to speak English and dejected by his life.

The defense attorney promised jurors they would hear evidence about "a culture that is vastly different from yours and mine," one that is male-dominated and religious.

"You will be presented evidence about the stigma of a divorce," Blatt said, explaining that Hanoukai was prevented from leaving his marriage by his Iranian and Jewish backgrounds.

One defense witness, another Iranian immigrant whose family owned a shop in Huntington Park next to the Hanoukai clothing store, said Manijeh Hanoukai constantly harassed her husband, calling him "stupid" and an "idiot" in public. Hanoukai would never respond to his wife and would only look at the ground during the woman's diatribes, testified Yousef Baghshyandeh.

The defense won a victory when Stoltz threw out the first-degree murder charges. The ruling means the judge found no evidence the killing was premeditated.

Hanoukai now faces one count of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life in state prison.

If convicted of voluntary manslaughter--a killing during the heat of passion and the charge recommended by Blatt--Hanoukai would face 11 years in prison and could be paroled in less than half of that time.

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