A woman whose would-be suicide leap from a Torrance hotel room window caused the death of her small daughter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter Friday, but was acquitted of murder charges.
The jury delivered its verdict after just two hours of deliberations, and without defendant Farinoosh "Roya" Dalili in the courtroom. Still gravely injured from her suicide attempt 15 months ago, she had fallen at home Wednesday and was hospitalized with what her brother described as a cracked vertebra.
But the highly unusual absence of the defendant--who had attended the two-week trial while lying in a hospital-style bed--did not detract from the drama the verdicts brought to an already emotion-charged case.
On March 3, 1997, Dalili, of Rancho Palos Verdes, brought her only child, 4-year-old Natalie, to a 10th-floor room at the Torrance Marriott Hotel. Both plunged out the window. Natalie, who landed so hard her pink tennis shoes were knocked off her feet, died. Roya Dalili lived but suffered a fractured pelvis and other injuries that plague her yet. She was charged with murder.
"I feel we did a just verdict. We all feel like we can sleep tonight," said juror Nancy Fletcher. "It was sad. I've been a mother, but we had to follow the law," she added.
Another juror, Donn Howard, said the involuntary manslaughter conviction represented the jury's view that the mother was responsible for her daughter's death by bringing her to the hotel room for what was at least a third suicide attempt by Roya Dalili.
"If you want to do that to yourself, OK, but don't take your kid with you," Howard said. But he and other jurors said the district attorney's office did not prove its contention that Roya Dalili had carried the child with her out the window. The defense argued that the child followed her mother. Dalili faces up to four years in state prison.
Her attorney, Alex Kessel, said he will seek probation for his client at her sentencing, which is scheduled for June 26. He said he will argue that no state prison facility could accommodate Dalili's physical and emotional problems.
Had she been convicted of first-degree murder, as the district attorney had asked, Dalili could have received a life sentence.
As the jury filed back into the courtroom--after all spectators had been searched and extra sheriff's deputies had been posted at each door and around the room--Dalili's supporters began gripping each others' hands and silently mouthing prayers.
As the first, and most serious, verdict was read, Dalili's brother, Hamid Arabzadeh, and a friend began sobbing.
The jury also found Dalili not guilty of two other charges: second-degree murder and assault on a child, causing death.
But outside the courtroom Arabzadeh's relief gave way to anger at Dalili's husband, whom he has repeatedly accused of sexually and emotionally abusing his wife, and at the district attorney, for prosecuting his sister instead of her allegedly abusive husband.
"This is a crime against humanity," he said of the prosecution, after refusing to shake Deputy Dist. Atty. Alex Karkanen's hand.
Karkanen said he was disappointed by the jury's three not-guilty verdicts but said the manslaughter conviction was important and gratifying.
"We're very glad [jurors] chose to hold her responsible for the fact that a 4-year-old child is dead," Karkanen said. "This was about having her accept responsibility for that."
Dalili's husband has vehemently denied the accusations of abuse. He has filed for divorce and also has lodged a civil wrongful death suit against his wife. Trial in the civil suit is scheduled to begin Aug. 4, according to a representative of the husband, Nader Dalili.
Nader Dalili did not attend the trial, but, after the verdicts were read, he issued a statement through his attorney, Gregory F. Stannard, in which he thanked the jury and the prosecutor and repeated his denials of spousal abuse.
"Not only have I lost a daughter who was the love of my life, but I lost my wife, whom I loved dearly before this tragedy took place," Nader Dalili's statement said.
"I was, and still am, absolutely shocked by the allegations made by my former wife," the statement continued. "During the trial, I testified under oath that I never abused my wife physically, sexually, emotionally, at any time throughout the entire time that I have known her. . . .
"For me personally, I am very gratified that the jury in this case did not find that these scandalous claims were an excuse for this horrible tragedy. This case was not about Roya and me. It was about the death of our wonderful daughter, whose life suddenly, and without reason, was senselessly taken from her."
The judge in the case, William R. Hollingsworth Jr., was out of town for a conference when the jury reached its verdict. Judge Jean Matusinka handled Friday's proceedings.
The jury began deliberating Wednesday, but had to begin again Friday after a juror was dismissed late Thursday. After jurors complained, Hollingsworth determined that the juror had attempted improperly to use his professional expertise to influence fellow jurors.